The time has come! The preseason’s wrapped up, the roster’s set, and just like that, the 2022-23 Flyers season is just about upon us. As we wind up for that, our very own Steph Driver and Bill Matz sat down and had a conversation with Flyers head coach John Tortorella about his goals for the season, vision for the team, and even more importantly, rescue animals!
You can give that chat a listen here—or in your preferred podcast feed—and also find the transcript below. Options for everyone! Pick your poison!
Steph Driver: Hi, I’m Steph Driver and today on Broad Street Hockey Interviews, I’m joined by my co-host Bill Matz and Philadelphia Flyers Head Coach John Tortorella, though we’ll keep it real short for you. I know you’re very busy. Puck drops Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center: division matchup against geographic, historical rival, the New Jersey Devils. You have 20 years of experience as an NHL Head Coach, how are you feeling heading into the season?
John Tortorella: Yeah, I, I guess I guess the way I’ll answer that is, I feel like the players. We’ve had the exhibition season, we’ve done this long enough. I want to see what we are when the real stuff starts happening. Whether it be really good stuff or some bad stuff we have to correct, all of that. I want to see it happen in the real stuff.
Bill Matz: That’s I’m looking forward to seeing how the season starts out, Coach. In interviews when you first got the job, and maybe throughout camp we’ve seen on the on The Standard, you’ve mentioned concerns about the culture and chemistry in the locker room. Now that the season’s basically arrived—I realize it’s not an overnight thing that’s going to change, it’s a season long process—how would you assess the culture ahead of game one?
JT: It’s it’s really a tough question for me to answer because we haven’t...we haven’t gone through any good stuff, we haven’t gone through any adversity. I think that’s when you start seeing how players react. Are the players playing hard enough for the coaching staff, do we have to bring that to attention? Some of the conflict that happens when we’re coaching and trying to get to a different standard? I think that’s when you start building it. It’s easy during during the exhibition season, it’s mostly a lot of evaluation. A lot of the coaching is happening right now, the past two or three days, and we’re teaching our systems. And when we start playing Thursday, that’s when it means something, all the points means something, and that’s when the pressure is on. And that’s when we kind of push a little bit too and looking for things to be done the right way and how you carry yourself. So it’s a big part of what we have to do here. I think we’re just beginning to start that with, some good hard practices here before we open up. But you asked me in a month, I’ll give you a better answer as far as where we stand.
BM: All right, he just booked himself for a month from now. Make sure we have that recorded.
SD: I will take you up on that for sure. So what does a successful 2022-23 season look like for the Flyers?
JT: I don’t know. I’ll tell you this: it’s going to take some time it to build it the right way. I think when you want to get this organization is back to where the Flyers used to be—and in the respect that they had in this league—that’s going to take time, and that’s building from within, some of our kids to develop them, develop a system of play that people held accountable. Just a system of teaching what it is to be a pro. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, you know, I can’t get into predictions. I don’t know what we’re going to look like. I don’t know, because I haven’t experienced these guys in this stuff here. When it really means something. I’m happy the way that camp has gone, but we have some holes. We have some holes within our lineup, we have some holes mentally, as far as can guys handle the expectations they’re going to put on? But we’re going to find our way, we’re going to defend first, we have to play better in front of Carter. That’s one thing I hope that we improve on. We’re going to have to... I mean, you can’t do nothing but improve on when you’re last in the league. We’re going to have to play from Carter on out and build our team that way, and we’ll see where we go. These are... I know you want to, I just, I’m not gonna lie to you. I just don’t know what it’s gonna look like, I know what I want it to look like, I know what the I want the effort to look like. I hope we get it, or that’s what we’re going to start building the standard, that’s when there’s going to be some hiccups and conflict that goes along with it to build this standard.
SD: So when you’re looking back in June, July, August, whatever it ends up being and you’re feeling good about the 2022-23 season, what does that look like? How did you get to feeling good about what you produce that season?
JT: Are you talking at the end of the year?
SD: Looking back, yeah.
JT: I guess the biggest thing is that we play as a group, that we that we’re a hard team to play against consistently. And quite honestly, it’s instinctive, that we’re a hard group. It’s not coaches always telling them, we need to be harder. It’s the group basically taking over themselves, and taking on that personality as far as being a hard group to play. Certainly better defensively. And, guys, when I talk about defense, I’ve talked about it twice now, it’s not to try to turn this team into a defensive team. You just don’t win in this league, you don’t, you don’t create a standard until you learn how to play away from the puck. That’s the hard part of the game. So I hope we take steps in that direction, and those type of areas. And I’m not going to talk about... I’m not going to give you what our win/loss record is. I think if we do the foundation things of playing the game the right way, hard defensively, and you’re as a group, and you have an identity as a hard group. And maybe you gain a little respect, honestly, because we have zero respect in this league right now, zero. If we gain a little respect in this league, then I think we’re on the right track. If you’re talking about June and July, then we’re taking the steps in the right direction.
BM: Torts, I am, you know, this is my job. But I am a fan first. And when I hear you talk about restoring the Flyers to what they used to be like, that gets me very excited. And the idea that this team is going to work hard and be hard to play against, something we’ve been hearing a lot of. What does it really mean, to be hard to play against?
JT: Yeah, and it’s a great question, because I think when you put Philadelphia Flyers, and being a hard team to play against, they immediately start thinking about back in the 70s, when they were brawling, and all the names, but the game has changed. I think being a team hard to play against is a team that plays hard on the wall, protects pucks, make sure the puck is out in a certain situation in the neutral zone so you don’t get another offensive play at you, in your offensive zone. Blocking shots, finishing your checks, sticking up for one another, taking care of the blue paint, being in their blue paint, and not let anybody near your goalie and your blue paint. I can go on for 10 minutes about little things that happen. But none of it’s fighting. None of it’s the big body checks. A big part of it is making them, if they have to come up the ice 180 feet, that they’re going to be going through five bodies, that’s being above the puck, and they’re going to have to sift through all of us to get to our end zone. That’s being hard. Being hard is when you get spanked one night, you bounce back the next night and you put in a good effort, you find your way. That’s been hard mentally. So it’s not physical hardness, it’s mental hardness. And that’s just concentrating on being a team, that so many different categories come into it that plays the right way.
BM: We’ve heard a lot this offseason, you know, you say you don’t know exactly what this team is going to look like—and how can you you haven’t really coached the full roster yet, you don’t really know what you have—but we’ve heard so much about how you want the team to be aggressive. I want to know how you like evaluate when the right amount of aggressive, what’s too aggressive? Like how do you decide when a player is being the right amount of aggressive versus too aggressive? Or, when they’re making the right decision?
JT: Yeah, we have, we put a saying down the wall here this summer, down by the weight room. It’s basically don’t worry about your mistakes, but just manage your risk too, and because it’s a game of mistakes. I think that’s one thing where, an older coach that I am, I think have evolved over the years is that I think early in my career, you’d always you’d want a perfect game. It was almost, you didn’t want them to make a mistake. I think you need to let them make mistakes and live through it. And I think they learned quicker by going through some mistakes and and maybe leaving them alone, maybe they figured out, but you step in sometimes when you don’t think they have. I think allowing them to play through the mistakes is very important. The key part is I don’t want mistakes of us being on our heels. I don’t want us to test the waters. I don’t want us to counterpunch and allow a team to dictate how the game is going to be played. I like to see us be aggressive in our forechecking, aggressive in our pinching, just aggressive in our mindset. I can live with mistakes a lot easier that way than having mistakes made just through being timid. And this is how I think you create create an identity as a team. I want—and it’s gonna take more than a season I think—I want teams to know when they play the Philadelphia Flyers, we’re coming no matter how much skill we have, no matter what type of problems we have within our lineup, they’re coming at us tonight. And that’s how I want us to be identified. And that’s going to take some time. So that’s an identity. I think we’re a team without an identity right now, and we’re going to try to cure that step by step in the process.
SD: So as we wrap up here, I want to talk about John Tortorella, the man. So one of the things that we know about you, one of the things that I know about you, it’s my favorite, is that you have a big heart and you love to rescue animals. And that’s something that’s very important to you. And it’s very important to me too. And I’ve heard that you’re working with the PSPCA and PAWS, I’ve worked closely with them in the past, and we’re going to help you with your adoptable pet of the week. Why is this so important to you? Can you tell me about where this comes from, your love for animals?
JT: Yeah, you know, I just have my wife... you know, all the crap she’s put up with me with all the moving and just with wives do with professional athletes and professional coaches. She is the one that really turned me on to this year with our Family Foundation. She does so much work all over the country, as far as, when it comes to animal welfare. And she’s the one who kind of brought my attention to some of the neglect and the atrocities that go on with all animals, cats, dogs, horses, anything. And I’ll put it to you this way, I think... we have four pitties, three horses, all rescues, horses were basically dead in the fields, they’re just wonderful animals now. The pitties, the shelters are are littered with pitties now that people have given up on. And for us, we like rescuing them, because there’s so many out there, she she’s just brought it to my attention as you go through it. They’re so vulnerable, because they’re so loyal. And no matter what’s going on, they’re always coming back, because they’re so loyal to the person that owns them or is with them, no matter if it’s good or bad stuff. That’s frightening to me, because there’s so much shit going on, how people treat animals. And so over the years, I’ve learned more and more from her. And we, if it’s not hockey, it’s this, and my wife is at the forefront of all this, I just follow her lead. And I’ve just fallen in love with animals. And I’d rather be with animals than people. I just enjoy it more. And there’s such a need for it too... there’s so many things that need to be done. You know, quite honestly, I think there needs to be legislation, harder legislation, on people that abuse animals, because they’re just let off, you know that. And I mean, I know I’m kind of rambling here but it’s such an encompassing topic for me. We were so fortunate that, not me and her, but because of the platform I am so lucky to have, we can help that way. And that’s what we’re trying to do, to just bring awareness to the people that we need help. Animals need help all over the world and we’re just trying to add, lend ourselves to it because of the platform that we do have.
SD: I love that and that’s exactly how we are too. That’s my life too, hockey and saving animals.
BM: I know you definitely, I know you definitely just won Steph over with that one.
SD: That’s it. That’s all we needed.
JT: I didn’t mean to ramble on. I can’t express enough to the people, the people that listen to this. Go walk a dog, just go spend some time with some people and the animals in the shelter and help out in any way. Just some money just to get animals vetted. If you don’t have money, spend some time with them. It was such a need, and now especially as you guys know, especially after the hurricane. Animals have been displaced and now are in shelters. I just can’t express to the people enough how much work is needed. People are trying but we need more help.
SD: And all you need is love, like that’s all these animals need. They need somewhere to stay that’s warm and to be taken care of, and they need love.
JT: Yeah, and that isn’t reaching in your pocket to dish out money, it’s from your heart. And that’s where these animals get into a jam, they’re just so loyal that they get into a jam and the abuse is just crazy.
SD: Yeah. All right. I’ve bullied everyone about a team dog. Let’s... this follows... I’ve been I’ve been bullying everyone that I’ve talked to you about a Flyers team dog. Is it time? Are we getting a team dog?
JT: The only thing, this has been brought up to me, the only thing that worries me about that is the dog’s well being. It gets passed around during the day. Where does it stay at night? You know what I mean, Steph?
SD: I totally do. Yeah, you can’t just have a rink dog that sleeps in the locker.
JT: But I don’t know if that’s good for the dog. I just don’t know what happens there. So I’m not sure if we go there. But I want to, I want to do this. I want to do this publicly with you guys and wanted anybody to listen, just to talk about animals and animal welfare. I’d rather do this than talk about hockey, quite honestly. So I’m available for conversations like this. And I know hockey’s my job, but I want to try to help out in any way possible, my wife and I want to try to help out in any way possible.
SD: Beautiful, and I know that we’re coming right up on time, but I would love to connect with you offline, whenever you have a chance. I would love to. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. I really, really appreciate it.
JT: My pleasure, guys. Have a great day.
SD: Thank you.
BM: Torts, if you could do me one favor and give Charlie O’Connor as hard of a time as possible. It would really mean a lot.
JT: Yeah, that’s gonna probably come naturally anyway, as far as some of the questions he’s already asked, so that’ll come sooner or later.
BM: Thanks a lot.
SD: Thanks so much.
JT: All right, guys, be well.