‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella doesn’t like high-maintenance players with oversized egos. Torts wants every player who pulls on the Rangers’ sweater to be a foot soldier, performing all the grunt work required to outwork opponents on any given night — without a hint of bellyaching.
When the Rangers acquired Rick Nash from the Blue Jackets this summer, they added a star player who not only possesses the ability to score goals in a number of ways, but also one that checks his ego at the door.
That’s exactly the sort of player Tortorella requires as he looks to build upon the success of last season’s run to the Eastern Conference finals. The Rangers have genuine Stanley Cup ambitions.
The Torts Effect
Not every player can handle Tortorella, who has shown the ability to chew players up and spit them out. If a player isn’t doing all the things Tortorella demands, he’s going to hear about it — and his minutes will be slashed. The Rangers’ fiery, brutally honest head coach always holds his players accountable. He never holds back his criticism. To succeed under Tortorella, you need to develop a thick skin.
Nash fits the “Tortorella mold.” He’s a straight-ahead kind of guy and has been itching for an opportunity to play for a winner.
For nine seasons, Nash banged his head against the wall trying to lift the Blue Jackets out of mediocrity. Those years only resulted in one playoff appearance. Columbus was swept at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.
The Blue Jackets have always been the little brother that’s gotten picked on by their bigger and strong Central Division brothers — the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Blues and Predators.
Now, at 28 and in the prime of his career, he suddenly finds himself on a Rangers roster stocked with talent and high ambitions. Tortorella spoke about the addition of Nash during Day 1 of training camp at the Rangers’ facility in Tarrytown, N.Y.
“I’ve watched him so much from afar when he’s playing with another team and seen him in international hockey. He’s a helluva player. I like the way he uses his body. We’re very happy he’s with the New York Rangers organization,” Tortorella told reporters on Sunday.
The Richards Effect
Brad Richards missed the start of camp due to the flu. He is considered day-to-day and is not expected to miss any games. While the Rangers waited for the new collective bargaining agreement to be signed, they held informal on-ice workouts. Before Richards was struck by the flu, Nash spent a lot of time working on his line.
The two were paired together at the 2006 Turin Olympics for Team Canada. That experience is a long way back in the past, but Nash and Richards are trying to rekindle a quick understanding of where each other tends to be on the ice.
“In a shortened season, it’s the team that’s going to come out the quickest, it’s the team that gels the quickest together and gains chemistry. We’re trying to work on it and we understand we play in five or six days and we’ve got to be ready,” Nash explained to reporters on Sunday.
Richards’ numbers suffered a significant dip in his first season in New York. Despite playing 10 more games in 2011-12, Richards’ regular season points total dropped 11 points from his 2010-11 mark of 77. He rarely had consistent linemates last season. The addition Nash will solve that problem.
Nash and Richards appear to be a solid match considering Richards’ tremendous playmaking vision and Nash’s ability to use his large frame in front of net. They each have the attributes that will bring the best out of one another.
There were moments last season when Richards was singled-out by the media for a few quiet months during his adjustment toward playing in New York. Richards is the kind of teammate who protects teammates in front of the media and helped the Rangers come together and finish the regular season with the best overall record in the Eastern Conference.
If Nash ever needs to pick someone’s brain over adjusting to New York, all he needs to do is seek out Richards.
The New York Effect
Nash grew up in the hockey hotbed of Brampton, Ontario, and has represented Canada since the age of 18. The laid-back hockey community of Columbus wasn’t anything like Nash had experienced previously playing in the Ontario Hockey League and greater Toronto minor leagues, where hockey is a religion.
After nine seasons of disappointment in Columbus, Nash will be energized by the spotlight of Madison Square Garden and the frenzied race for the number one seed in the Eastern Conference. Considering their difficult opening opponents, the Rangers will need to be sharp from the get-go.
The Rangers will kick off their season at the TD Garden on Saturday against the Boston Bruins and travel home to Madison Square Garden for their home opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.
With the 48-game schedule packed into four months, it’s going to be a grind. Nash and his Rangers teammates are making sure they’re prepared for the haul.
“There’s a sense of urgency out there. We’ve got to be ready,” Nash said.
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