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The truth behind Sean Couturier’s diminishing ice time

© Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Despite a noticeable drop off in his play, Sean Couturier’s removal from the lineup on March 19 — the first healthy scratch of his career — came as a surprise to many. The Flyers would go on to win that game, a 4-3 decision over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The win gave cause for coach John Tortorella to keep Couturier out of the lineup for a second consecutive game, which ended in an overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Coots returned to the lineup on March 23 and played just 13 minutes in a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins.

Since that much-needed win over Boston, the Captain has been given less than 12 minutes in each game the Flyers have played, all of which have been losses. As the team continues to struggle, fans have been left asking just why their former Selke-winning Captain can’t seem to work his way out of John Tortorella’s doghouse.

While the controversy surrounding Tortorella and Couturier fueled conspiracy theories, sources close to Broad Street Hockey identified the real reason behind the dispute. Namely, Couturier refused to sign Tortorella’s hand cast.

“You expect your leader to be the first to grab the bull by the horns and take the team into the fight,” Tortorella said earlier this morning. “In this case it’s a leader being the first to grab the black Sharpie with a firm grip and put his John Hancock on my cast.” The coach added he was not going to identify the player who wrote “Tortorellasy, U Rule, Biggie 4 Life, John Hancock!” Reporters quickly noticed Cam York’s similar penmanship just above it.

The cast was only partially visible since Tortorella wore it following a late February surgery and the coach said little about it. Assistant coach Rocky Thompson signed the cast first with his name and a happy face on February 28. Brad Shaw autographed it the following day. Equipment managers followed suit in early March but Tortorella said nothing to media nor players, keeping the focus on the team. 

Sources said Garnet Hathaway, who challenged Tortorella to an arm wrestle with his bad hand, found a spot on cast’s inner sleeve to put his initials and jersey number down, becoming the first player to sign. Nic Deslauriers stenciled a small Celtic cross on it and a line from a James Joyce novel. From there one to two players a day added to it: “We’re back on the f—king ice! Hugs and Kisses, Bobby and Olle!” “I’m not your captain but I’m your Morgan!” “I have casts on my casts. Seels!” “Good luck with chopsticks. Joel!” “I’m outta here. Walksy!” Slowly the cast filled up with ink but Couturier remained steadfast, refusing to sign the cast if his ice time was diminishing. The coach refused to increase Couturier’s ice time if he did not sign the cast, by then roughly three weeks old and showing some wear and tear.

Following the trade deadline, newcomers Erik Johnson and Denis Gurianov didn’t hit the practice ice before putting their sentiments on plaster, leaving Couturier as the lone holdout. On March 19, the morning of the Leafs game, a source said Couturier was brought into Tortorella’s office. Couturier found 14 Sharpies on his desk arranged to resemble an S and a C. “No, not doing it!” Couturier could be heard screaming at Torts while Torts yelled back, the sounds of Sharpies hitting the walls and doors. Scott Laughton and Travis Sanheim broke up the scuffle and both sides went their own way.

On the morning of March 23, prior to their home game against Boston, Flyers general manager Danny Briere brought both sides together in Briere’s office. Sources suggest Briere gave Couturier two options. One was sign the cast and play. The second was force Couturier, his wife and his child to move into Briere’s home as Couturier did during his rookie season with the Flyers. “Give me the frickin’ Sharpie then!” Couturier said before scribbling something illegible on Tortorella’s cast. 

The source added Tortorella was going to celebrate the removal of the cast by throwing it the first chance he got at one of the Flyers beat reporters. Couturier’s agent said his client plans on spending most of the summer at sports card and memorabilia shows holding free autograph signings.

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