Apologetic Tortorella Fined $30K For Ripping Winter Classic Refs

NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) — Too bad HBO’s “24/7” cameras were packed up. Rangers coach John Tortorella had one final Winter Classic sound bite in the aftermath of his critical postgame comments following an otherwise ideal showcase game:

An apology.

Tortorella told reporters at the team’s practice facility Wednesday that he was sorry for calling the officiating in the game “disgusting.”

“I tainted the Winter Classic with my mouth and I shouldn’t have,” Tortorella said. “So I apologize to everyone involved.”

Tortorella said he was being sarcastic for comments made after New York’s 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday came down to a penalty shot with 20 seconds left.

“They called a penalty shot, which I still don’t understand,” he said Monday. “I’m not sure if NBC got together with the refs to turn this into an overtime game. I thought the game was reffed horrible.

“I just thought tonight, in that third period, it was disgusting.”

Tortorella backtracked two days later, saying he called numerous league officials and team representatives to apologize.

“It was wrong with my sarcasm, with my frustration and I apologize to everyone involved,” he said. “It was not my intent. I certainly handled it the wrong way, especially to the two refs.”

The NHL fined Tortorella $30,000 on Wednesday night for his comments.

“There is no acceptable explanation or excuse for commentary challenging the integrity of the League, its officials or its broadcast partners,” said Colin Campbell, the NHL vice president of hockey operations. “People can disagree with calls by officials on the ice, but even in instances of the utmost frustration there is no justification for speaking as inappropriately and irresponsibly as Mr. Tortorella did.”

His critical remarks stole some of the spotlight away from an otherwise fantastic afternoon of hockey. Tortorella also suggested the officials made the call that let Flyers center Danny Briere take the potential game-tying shot because of a conspiracy between the NHL and its network partner, NBC.

“It was frustration on my part as far as the referees were concerned and how it was done at the end of the game. I want to get that straight,” Tortorella said. “Not for a second, no way, time, shape or form did I think anything like that goes on with our league. Or ever will.”

He planned to personally apologize to officials Dennis LaRue and Ian Walsh.

Imagine what he might have said had the Rangers lost.

Tortorella’s referee bashes were among the final words of a nearly monthlong celebration of the NHL’s annual Classic. With snow flurries, see-your-breath temperatures, and a game between two heated rivals decided by a penalty shot, the NHL, HBO and NBC got all the pieces together for a perfect story.

The league, however, must have wished for better ratings.

The Winter Classic, moved a day later off its traditional Jan. 1 faceoff, earned a 2.4 share and 3.74 million viewers in the overnight ratings. That’s down from the 4.5 million viewers who tuned in from last season’s primetime matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

League officials insist there are no plans to move the game from its 1 p.m. EST start time or the Jan. 1 date in the future.

With close to 47,000 fans at Citizens Bank Park, the Classic remained one of the hottest tickets in sports. And it’s still the coveted get — well, outside of a Stanley Cup finals appearance — for teams around the league.

Next season, the Winter Classic could be Motown bound. After playing as the visiting team in the 2009 Classic, league officials appear keen on getting the game to Michigan. Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owns the Detroit Tigers, making downtown’s Comerica Park a prime spot for the outdoor game. Michigan Stadium is a possibility since the Big House can hold 100,000 fans.

“We have a few good arenas in the Detroit area,” Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg said. “It would be a pretty cool thing if they could pull that together.”

So far, Buffalo, Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have hosted the event, and the Sabres, Red Wings, Blackhawks, Capitals, Bruins, Rangers, Penguins (twice) and Flyers (twice) have played in it.

Wherever the locale, expect the Classic to remain the only open-air game.

“We are tightly controlling the number of outdoor games we have,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “There are a number of clubs who say, ‘I want this, and even if I’ve hosted it, I don’t want to wait 10 years to get it back. So let’s do more and more and more.’

“Other people say this has become a special event, because it’s special, it’s unique and that’s something that, over time, we’ll probably continue to wrestle with. But I don’t think we are going to change the format in the short term.”

The NHL has yet to select a Canadian team in the five-year history of the event. NBC has balked in the past at including Toronto or Vancouver or any team north of the border. As the event grows, at some point, the NHL will have to call on new teams for it.

How does Red Wings vs. Maple Leafs in 2013 sound?

“There were strong feelings as we were building this event, that their metrics were, driving the ratings,” NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins said. “That was important to them. Obviously that’s important to us, too. But I think the event’s beginning to grow. They’re buying into something that we’re building together which is a celebration of hockey. I think if we can figure out the right matchup, maybe it would work.”

The NHL would love to renew its relationship with HBO for another season of the all-access “24/7” show, which airs the finale Thursday night. Former Showtime executive Ken Hershman starts this month as the new president of HBO Sports. He could decide to keep the show, and possibly expand it from its four-week run, or move in a different direction. Teams have been gracious in their access the last two seasons, making it wildly popular around the NHL.

“The players loved it. It’s such a great experience,” Tortorella said. “I look at some of the family things that these players are going to be able to have on film with their family at such a young age when they grow up and to see this, it’s great stuff.

So I have no problem being involved in this. It’s a first-class outfit as far as how they went about their business.”

Your thoughts on the fine? Sound off below…

(TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

  • Herb Brooks

    The NHL is just upset because Torts let the cat out of the bag. The NHL uses the Winter Classic to showcase the game of hockey to Americans who are not fans of the sport. The NHL was obviously going out of its way to highlight what they consider to be the more exciting aspects of the game (e.g., overtime, a shootout, a penalty shot, 4 on 4s etc). I can understand why they would want to do that but find it disgraceful that they would alter the outcome of a game to achieve those goals. While being an employee of the NHL, it was wrong for Tortorella to make these comments publicly, that doesn’t change the fact that he was absolutely right. The NHL is the one responsible for screwing with the integrity of the game by trying to attract new fans. Bettman and the rest of the NHL officials responsible should step down immediately to restore the fanbase’s faith in the sport.

  • Sean

    It was refreshing to see someone (anyone) point out the money grubbing corruption that is drowning America. I lost my respect for him when he apologized.

  • TGO

    Not only were calls horendous and dispicable, but to make matters worse they were called by a ref who was a Philly native. He should be looked into. I don’t think that there’s a fix with NBC and the league, I understand Torts fustration.

    Let’s keep’em going to tonight in Fla.

    Go Rangers!!!

  • R.M.S.

    Anyonere who understds this game knows where Tortorella is comming from. People can SEE what is going on, they are not blind. Conspiracy I don’t think so but please those were horendous calls at the end. First the Ref did not see Mcdonough put his hand over the puck,as you can see by his positioning and the numerous camera angles. Don’t call it on an assumption. Callahan questionable, as soon as the stick came up,the hand goes up no matter what happens next. It was an empty net, what do you think what would have happened….Heat of the moment for Tortarella. Stop being so politically correct It’s Hockey!

  • Ray Z

    The fine was well deserved. Be honest though, if you watched the game you have to admit some of the calls were horendous, the Callahan call, the McDonough crease call for a PENALTY SHOT com’on. The game finished in fantastic fashion but to question the integrity of the game was wrong, I’m sure the words were spoken out of frustration, we have all been down that road I’m sure. Keep up the good work NBC and the NHL. As for Torts all is forgiven and keep the Rangers pumped your doing a fantastic job.

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