Why Atkinson vouched for Tortorella in exit meeting with Fletcher


At his end-of-the-season press conference in late April, Cam Atkinson, unprompted, brought up John Tortorella.

With the Flyers looking for a new head coach, it was notable.

And Atkinson went to bat for him behind closed doors, too.

As general manager Chuck Fletcher was set to begin his search for a new leader behind the bench, Atkinson endorsed the man he battled at times in Columbus.

About a month and a half later, Tortorella was named head coach of the Flyers.

"I know in my exit meeting, that was one thing that Chuck and I talked about, I actually brought up Torts," Atkinson said last Friday on NBC Sports Philadelphia's Flyers Talk podcast. "I said, 'I vouch for Torts.' That's how much I think that Torts is going to help our team."

More: Tortorella pumped for 'damn' Flyers, his 'two-way street,' more in 5 takeaways

The 33-year-old winger played for parts of six seasons under Tortorella with the Blue Jackets. He scored a career-high 41 goals and 69 points on Tortorella's 2018-19 Columbus squad that went on to shock the Lightning in a first-round sweep.

Tortorella turns 64 years old on Friday. He is pegged as a demanding, old-school type of coach. Tortorella sees it as tough love that can bring out the best in a player and coach.

"Cam and I went through a number of different roads, sat Cam out a few times along the way," Tortorella said Friday. "But I look at that guy now and what he’s become, how hard he plays, how he has grown as a leader and has grown as a person. I'm very fortunate to have spent some time with him.

"I kind of rely on him sometimes, I relied on him in Columbus as your relationship changes. As a coach, you have to remember, you put them through the paces, and they grow, show them a little respect. You need to back off and allow them to maybe help you a little bit. I think that’s where Cam and I are now in our relationship. A family man and I couldn’t be prouder of him.​"

Tortorella took over the Blue Jackets in the opening month of the 2015-16 season. Following that year, they made the playoffs in four straight seasons.

"When I first got there, Cam was being sat out. I’m not sure what happened, it was eight games into a season, I'm not sure what happened," Tortorella said. "Cam was stubborn and I like his stubbornness. I think players of that quality, of what he has to do in the size that he is, and what he has to do as a player in the National Hockey League and be a top-notch player like he is, you've got to have that stubbornness.

"So we went back and forth and it took us a while because I asked for more. I think Cam was comfortable coming to practice and practicing. You come to practice and practice, you didn’t do your work. You come to practice and you be ready to practice, you have a readiness about you. I think that it comes off of how leadership presents itself in the locker room on a practice day. It took us a little while for a number of guys in Columbus to understand you’re not just going to practice to get through it; we’re going to practice for a purpose and we’re going to go hard."

Atkinson grew to appreciate being challenged by Tortorella.

"There's no BS with Torts," he said. "I think people really like that. You talk to a lot of the players that have played for him that are currently still playing and guys that have played for him in the past, 99 percent of the guys love Torts. Loved the way he went about his business, loved the way he just told it how it is, kept everyone accountable, practices were hard, but there was always a rhyme to the reason. I think he's going to do great for our team."

The former Blue Jacket should be a good buffer between his teammates and the new head coach.

Tortorella time has arrived. What's the vibe among the team?

"I would tell them stories throughout the year of, 'I think this is what we need.' It's just kind of funny how things are coming to fruition," Atkinson said. "Guys are definitely a little anxious, but I think that's what you want. I think it's good for your team to be anxious going into training camp and the start of the season."

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