Ryan Kesler was not well-liked during his NHL career. From fans of opposing teams who thought he played a greasy, cheating style of hockey to Vancouver Canucks fans, who thought he left them stranded on bad terms for the Anaheim Ducks. Coaches and other players, who didn’t like his brazen personality, which apparently includes John Tortorella.
Kesler was drafted 23rd overall in 2003 and later won the Selke Trophy for being the best defensive forward in the 2010-2011 season. He spent most of his career with the Canucks before being traded to the Ducks. Following severe hip injuries and surgeries after playing just over 1,000 career games, his NHL career seems to be over after last playing in the 018-19 season.
- Ryan Kesler stats (career): 258 goals, 315 assists, 573 points, 1,285 hits
Tortorella has his own long history in the NHL, working with countless players and winning a Stanley Cup title. The veteran coach had stints coaching the New York Rangers, the Canucks, and the Columbus Blue Jackets. This season, he is behind the bench for the surprisingly good Philadelphia Flyers.
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The two men, both known for being emotional when it comes to hockey, crossed paths regularly in 2014, Kesler’s last season when Tortorella coached the Canucks. Kesler, who often gets emotional about games, was in his 10th season with the club, and things were not going well. The team was playing well below capability–the roster boasted names like Henrik and Daniel Sedin as well as Roberto Luongo–and that’s just not Kesler’s style.
Things came to a head, according to the former center, on March 6, 2014, after the Canucks played a horrible game of hockey against the Dallas Stars, leading to a brutal 6-1 loss. Tortorella wanted to do something about it. He asked to review the film and discuss the team’s performance, a conversation that Kesler says didn’t go well.
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“[I] come in and we go over video and every clip just about me. Like over and over, and he finally stops the clip and he’s like, ‘I’m f–king worried about you, Kes. I’m really worried about you, you want out of here.’ And I said, ‘you don’t have to f–king worry about me.’ And trade deadline is passed now, so I’m staying.”Ryan Kesler on his interaction with John Tortorella , via Paul Bissonnette’s podcast Spittin’ Chiclets
Apparently, this hadn’t been the first time Kesler and Tortorella had been at odds (Kesler had his assistant captaincy stripped from him earlier in the season), as the 6-foot-2 forward uses the word ‘again’ when describing the incident.
“I stand up in my stall, his nose is in like my chest, and I’m looking down at him like, ‘you want to make this about me and you again?’ And we just went back and forth. And then he throws a tantrum, throws the remote and he’s like, ‘I’m f–king out of here.’ And he leaves.”Description of dispute between Ryan Kesler, John Tortorella
In Kesler’s version, that’s not the end of the story. “I had a bunch of young guys coming up like, ‘oh that’s the best thing I’ve ever seen,’ cause no one ever stands up to the guy,” he said. “Everybody respects him, but they’re also scared of him.” So, later, the team was on the ice, and Tortorella skated up to Kesler. Allegedly, the coach shoved his player, prompting Kesler to prepare himself to fight.
“This is in Vancouver, there’s cameras in the bleachers, in the stands. And I’m like, ‘holy sh-t, we’re doing this right now, I’m going to fight a coach. Like, I’m fighting a coach, on the ice, right now,’”Ryan Kesler on his mindset during the 2014 altercation
But, things unfolded how Kesler didn’t expect. Torts, as he is called, commended Kesler for standing up for himself and pushing back against the criticism. The coach even offered to return the A on Kesler’s jersey. But, as Kesler foreshadowed, he knew neither of them would stay in Vancouver long enough to see that happen. And Kesler was right.
“He pushes me again and I turn to him and he’s like, ‘I f–king love it, Kes. That’s why you’re going to be back. If I’m back here and you’re back here, you’re gonna get your ‘A’ back.’ And I go, “Torts, I’m not gonna be back here and you know you’re not gonna be back here. So that’s not gonna happen.’ And he starts laughing and skates away,” the American-born center said.
Tortorella has a unique style of coaching and, while it doesn’t work for some (see: Pierre-Luc Dubois), there’s something to it. Just ask the 4-2-0 Flyers, who are better than anyone could have expected so far this season with John Tortorella at the helm.