On the afternoon before the Flyers opened training camp, season ticket holders received an email with a message direct from head coach John Tortorella. Before the fans even get a chance to see what a Tortorella camp looks like or how the team will respond, they got a taste of the new bench boss’s no-nonsense approach.
“Every single player will be tough to play against, and above all, give an honest effort,” Tortorella’s message read. “If they don’t, you won’t see that player very much. That, and that alone, will be the driving force of our success and will define our 2022-23 season.”
While fan excitement is certainly at an all-time low, Tortorella knows he has a job to do, an incredibly difficult job at that. The Flyers have fully entered the arena of irrelevance, and now they have to win the fanbase back over. Nothing does that like results, and that’s what Tortorella’s job revolves around.
Expectations will be what they will be, and Tortorella has already expressed that he has no interest in revisiting last season or any prior season. His job is to focus on the present and future of the franchise. And while there are plenty of other aspects of the Flyers organization drawing the ire of the fanbase, the players and the product on the ice are the defining force behind getting people to ultimately buy in.
It’s very clear that each of the 71 players on the training camp roster are now on Tortorella time.
Tortorella already laid the groundwork for the training camp that is to come over the new several weeks in the days after he was hired. In his introductory press conference, he made clear that his training camps are notably challenging.
“I am going to coach that team hard right away. It’s going to be a very difficult camp,” Tortorella said. “High volume skating. They will be told about this during the summer. We’re attacking it.
“I am approaching each and every day to try to make each individual player play better, as a player, as a person then as a team trying to get better each and every day. That will take care of the time frame wherever it goes, it goes. I’m not going to calmly go about it. What I’m telling you is I am just going at it as quickly as I can to try to make us the best we can be, especially away from the puck when we first start the season.”
Only one player on the Flyers regular roster from last season has previously been through a John Tortorella training camp. Cam Atkinson knows very well what to expect, and even then acknowledged then that there are still butterflies.
“As we’ve been back for the last three weeks, it seems guys have been asking more questions and those anxious butterflies are kind of creeping in,” Atkinson said. “That’s what you want. I know firsthand that it’s going to be tough and I still get anxious about it.”
It’s going to be a change from anything this group of players has ever experienced. Atkinson knows what Tortorella means in discussing repercussions for players that don’t deliver an honest effort.
“Just work hard. He wants to see who’s going to quit and who’s going to keep it going when times are not going your way,” Atkinson said. “There’s no exaggerating a Torts training camp. It’s good for us. We need it.”
Tortorella specifically mentioned that Kevin Hayes was a player he was eager to work with after being hired. He noted that he wanted to bring out the best in Hayes. Now entering his fourth season with the Flyers, Hayes knows that the change in culture is needed and feels the Flyers have the right guy for the job.
“If we’re going to change the culture, I think Torts is the correct guy to have,” Hayes said. “He holds everyone accountable, whether you’ve played 1,000 games or are a rookie. In order to have a successful team, you need to have accountability, whether it’s players holding each other accountable, management holding players accountable, or in this case, I think Torts is going to hold all players that make this team accountable.”
Similar to Atkinson, Hayes seemed to have full understanding that there’s no fear in delivering that accountability and leaving a player behind that isn’t buying in. He’s fully expecting Tortorella to be hard on him and to make clear when he isn’t playing up to standard.
“He’s not going to let things slide. Some of the conversations could be awkward if he doesn’t think I’m playing the correct way, but that’s how you figure out how to get the best out of your players,” Hayes said. “I know for a fact he has no problem saying anything to anyone.
“I think guys on the team are very excited. They’re a little nervous, I think, because he’s a tough coach. That’s his system and if you’re not doing what he wants you to do, you’re probably not going to be in the lineup.”
There is no mild approach to Tortorella’s coaching. It’s about achieving success on the ice and finding a way to win games. No matter where fans may believe the team is regarding talent or roster construction, it isn’t going to change the veteran coach’s style.
“The Philadelphia Flyers chose me to run that team. I’m going to go in there and run that team that way I think I should,” Tortorella said. “I’m looking to try to win games, I’m trying to get our team ready to be the right people, the right pros and play as a team, then we’ll take it one day at a time.”
The waiting is over. It’s now time to see just what the Tortorella era can do to the Flyers.