It’s been just over three years since the day the Canucks fired John Tortorella and his assistant coach Mike Sullivan.
How things have changed.
Sullivan has a chance to win his second Stanley Cup in as many years as coach of the Penguins. They’re two wins away from the ultimate goal, leading Nashville 2-0 in the championship series, with Game 3 on Saturday.
Brought into the Penguins organization as the head coach with its AHL team in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season, Sullivan eventually took over mid-season for the fired Mike Johnston in Pittsburgh.
A few months later, he was hoisting the Stanley Cup over his head.
Two more wins and he’ll do it again, as the Penguins can become the first repeat champion of the salary cap era.
The opportunity isn’t lost on Tortorella, a Jack Adams finalist this year as Columbus finished the regular season with 108 points and third in the Metropolitan Division, before being ousted by the Penguins in the opening round.
“I remember when we got fired [by the Vancouver Canucks after the 2013-14 season], we talked and I said, ‘Sully, that’s the last time we can ever work together,'” Tortorella told NHL.com. “He was being labeled as an assistant coach, and that’s the last place his road was taking him, as we see now.
“I think he just handles people really well, and that is so important with today’s athletes. They’ve changed from 10 years ago. You have to be really careful with them, and I think that’s his biggest strength, and everything falls off of that.”
Sullivan’s attention to the details of the game, not to mention a coach’s mind that apparently never stops working, was thoroughly outlined in a profile a couple of months ago.
“I don’t think you ever arrive,” Sullivan said last year, with the Penguins on the verge of the Stanley Cup versus San Jose. “I think it’s that insatiable appetite to improve and get better that has allowed this team to get to the point where it’s at. We’re going to keep pushing until we achieve our ultimate goal.”
A year later, and the ultimate goal is within reach. Again.