TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 15:  Team USA head coach John Tortorella answers questions during Media day at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 15, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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Shocking: Tortorella emphasizes ‘mental toughness’

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Without any clues, if you had to pick one word to describe what John Tortorella might be looking for, what would it be?

There’s a strong chance many would pick “toughness” (or, OK, maybe a variation such as “grit”) and you’d be right.

After a World Cup of Hockey in which Team USA’s pursuit of toughness bordered, at times, on the comical, Tortorella kept the same themes going with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

“I think that’s the fine line of winning and losing,” Tortorella told the Columbus Dispatch. “How do you handle yourself in those little situations where it’s, ‘Man, what do (I) give? Or, do (I) give in?’

“I’ve said it from day one, our mental toughness needs to be changed and this is part of the process.”

Specifically, Tortorella was talking about the Blue Jackets going through what the Columbus Dispatch describes as an especially “grueling” practice early on in training camp. But, honestly, it feels like it can be Torts’ request for just about anything hockey-related.

(It would be a refreshing bit of trolling if Tortorella decided to talk about finesse for an entire press conference.)

To some extent, talk of toughness can probably be chalked up to “coach-speak.”

Still, it’s tough not to wonder if the 2016-17 season might serve as a litmus test for Torts’ way of thinking and how it may influence the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Even when it’s not Torts making the decisions or at least dishing out the soundbytes, the Blue Jackets seem fixated on intangibles. Consider how GM Jarmo Kekalainen spoke about character while elaborating on the divisive decision to select Pierre-Luc Dubois over, say, Jesse Puljujärvi.

For all the blue collar talk, the Blue Jackets aren’t exactly a cheap team, with the 2016-17 version coming in at a cap hit of about $69 million.

In a multitude of ways, Columbus is paying a premium for intangibles and toughness, with Torts carrying that focus to an extreme. It should be fascinating to see how this all shakes out … even if Sergei Bobrovsky‘s play could ultimately be the real make-or-break factor for the Blue Jackets.

Tortorella defends Team USA’s roster, blames loss to Canada on ‘self-inflicted’ mistakes

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 17: Head coach John Tortorella of Team USA looks on during the first period while playing Team Europe during the World Cup of Hockey tournament on September 17, 2016 in Toronto, Canada.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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“We have practiced enough,” John Tortorella said yesterday. “We have talked enough, we have gone through all that process. Let’s play the damn game.”

Well, the damn game finished 4-2 for Team Canada tonight in Toronto, eliminating Tortorella’s Team USA from World Cup contention. With a whimper.

The winless Americans still have to play the winless Czechs on Thursday, but it will be a meaningless affair for both sides. Team Europe and Team Canada have both advanced to the semifinals. They’ll play each other tomorrow for first place in Group A.

For the Americans — who came into the best-on-best tournament trumpeting the slogan, “It’s time” — it was an embarrassing, demoralizing, dismal performance.

They lacked creativity on offense.

They had numerous defensive breakdowns.

They did not show much resilience.

They did not look like a team with a sound plan.

In two games, they were outscored by a 7-2 margin. On Saturday, in a game they couldn’t afford to lose, they were shut out by Team Europe, 3-0.

Now the blame game starts.

It begins with the coach, who was always a controversial choice. In 2014, Tortorella was fired by the Vancouver Canucks after one disastrous season, and he admitted he deserved to be. But Team USA’s general manager, Dean Lombardi, felt that Tortorella had learned some valuable lessons, so he gave him the job.

“John’s had a lot of success, but what I was most intrigued by was that he was willing to admit he’d made mistakes,” said Lombardi. “He freely opened up as far as mistakes he’d made with players, maybe even times with his system, as well as the media. That takes a lot.”

Upon getting hired, Tortorella talked about his plan for Team USA at the World Cup.

“It’s about pressure,” he said. “It’s about attacking. And let’s forget about the X’s and O’s, it’s about a mindset. It’s about a team that needs to feel good about itself before this tournament even starts, needs to feel strong mentally about itself. I think intangibles in such a short tournament is huge.”

The roster would reflect Tortorella’s philosophy. Players that liked to engage physically, like Justin Abdelkader, were chosen over skilled goal-scorers like Phil Kessel. On the back end, it was big Erik Johnson over a puck-mover like, say, Kevin Shattenkirk.

“We are going to know who we are,” Tortorella vowed. “And we are going to play our game.”

And after falling to Canada, he doubled down on the plan.

According to Tortorella, the problem for the Americans wasn’t the roster or tactics. It was a simple matter of execution.

“We didn’t play well enough,” he said. “But you guys can beat up the roster all you want. You look at some of those players on our roster, there are some pretty good skill players, and we just simply did not do enough offensively. And we self-inflicted quite a bit in the two games. We gave some easy goals, and you just can’t do that in a short tournament.”

He added, “I thought the guys were prepared, but we blow up, self-inflicted, and they surged, and we had no answer. We kept trying to catch up the rest of the game and just couldn’t get it done. ”

Meanwhile, Kessel took to Twitter:

Bottom line: this World Cup is going to sting for USA Hockey, and it’s likely to lead to some soul-searching. What kind of hockey do the Americans want to play? What do they value most? They tried it the hard-working, gritty way and it didn’t go very well. Is there a better way?

And hey, maybe there isn’t. Maybe right now there just isn’t enough talent to match up with Canada. Maybe there will be one day. But until that day arrives, maybe the Torts way is, in fact, the best way.

Let the debate rage.

Related: That was the worst possible World Cup debut for Team USA

Abdelkader with Kane? Tortorella isn’t ‘over-thinking it’

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 25: Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks moves around Justin Abdelkader #8 of the Detroit Red Wings in Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center on May 25, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Blackhawks defeated the Red Wings 4-1. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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For better or worse, John Tortorella is committed to his vision of what works in hockey.

Specifically: when in doubt, Tortorella goes for grit over skill. That’s not to say that he’s dismissing talent altogether when making moves for Team USA … but his fixation on Justin Abdelkader fits nicely into that narrative.

While he’s stated that line combinations aren’t set in stone, it’s still resounding to see Abdelkader line up with Patrick Kane. At least during a best-on-best tournament.

“There isn’t anything thinking,” Tortorella said when asked to justify the combo. “You’re over-thinking it.”

Sheesh, Tortorella is practically writing the jokes for us, isn’t he?

The obvious

Analytics-friendly thinking would dictate that Team USA would want to put a greater emphasis on skill after being shut out by Team Europe, especially as they anticipate a Canada team that’s willing to blend talent with effort.

The argument that Tortorella is set in his ways, likely to his roster’s detriment, is fair.

Devil’s advocate

On the other hand, there are certain factors that justify this allegedly non-thinking way of thinking.

For one thing, Abdelkader himself explained to the AP’s Stephen Whyno and others that he’s had plenty of experience playing with high-end skaters such as Henrik Zetterberg in Detroit. These aren’t exactly uncharted waters for the hard-driving forward.

It’s easy to see why his forechecking ways appeal to Torts, but consider this: Abdelkader actually did play pretty well in America’s opener.

According to Natural Stat Trick’s numbers, Abdelkader was one of America’s best forwards from a possession standpoint. He also managed three shots on goal with modest ice time of almost 12 minutes.

If you take name recognition and previous experience out of the equation, Tortorella is rewarding someone who did some nice things in a very specific example.

***

Look, the giggles make sense. It’s pretty odd to react to being shut out by putting a limited (if hard-working) forward with one of your few game-breakers in Kane.

There really is a thought process to this non-thinking, though.

The U.S. likely knew what it was getting into in choosing Tortorella. It probably won’t be pretty, yet that’s sort of how Torts likes it.

Tortorella: USA vs. Canada is ‘our championship game’

TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 16:  Head coach of Team USA John Tortorella looks on during practice at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 16, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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After Saturday’s humbling 3-0 loss to Europe, Team USA head coach John Tortorella was (dare we say it) remarkably understated.

He admitted that the U.S. is now “chasing it” in the World Cup of Hockey and was borderline boring in cautioning against panic.

Thankfully, he brought the drama this afternoon, though. In his mind, Tuesday’s game against Canada is America’s “championship game,” according to reporters including the AP’s Stephen Whyno.

“This is either you’re afraid of it or it’s a fantastic opportunity,” Tortorella said, via NHL.com’s Nick Cotsonika.

Tortorella is far from the only Team USA member to acknowledge the importance of Tuesday’s looming test against Canada. “Must-win” seems to be the phrase of the moment for quite a few players.

“There’s always pressure, but it’s a must-win for us,” Derek Stepan said, according to NHL.com. “Maybe it’s a good thing we got our backs against the wall and got a little adversity. We have to up our level and up our game.”

While it’s dangerous to assume that practice lines equal game-time decisions, it’s worth noting that Dustin Byfuglien and Kyle Palmieri were in the mix for the U.S. during Sunday’s practice.

Torts is the first to admit that the World Cup is the sprint to the NHL regular season’s marathon. There isn’t much time to ramp up America’s pace, so why not throw a little hype around?

J.T. Brown explains his criticism of Tortorella’s anthem stance

GLENDALE, AZ - FEBRUARY 21:  J.T. Brown #23 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the NHL game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on February 21, 2015 in Glendale, Arizona.  The Lightning defeated the Coyotes 4-2.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown has “no ill will towards John Tortorella,” but he does want to explain the tweet he published on Tuesday that was critical of Tortorella’s promise to bench any of his players that “sit on the bench for the national anthem.”

“I responded to a story on Twitter with my opinion and that was how I saw it,” Brown said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “He sees the situation through his reality and I see it through mine, as a black athlete in the NHL. I know I’m not on the United States World Cup roster, but I have had a chance to represent my country on other occasions. My Tweet was a hypothetical. What if I took a stance to promote awareness for one of the many injustices still occurring in our country and was punished despite there being no rule or law against it? My Tweet was a response to that question.

“I could have been quiet and just kept my opinion to myself, but I don’t want young minorities who love the game of hockey to think that what’s going on in America today is going unnoticed by the hockey community. I love America and thank the military for protecting our freedoms, as well as law enforcement for protecting and serving our communities, but that doesn’t mean I can’t acknowledge that there is still racism today. I am glad my Tweet provoked a discussion, because we need to start having a conversation about racism if we want to work towards a better America.

“While I don’t plan on sitting during the national anthem, I will look for more opportunities to positively impact my community and bring awareness to racial issues.”

Tortorella, the head coach of Team USA at the upcoming World Cup, expanded on his stance yesterday.

“We are in a great country because we can express ourselves,” he said, per the Toronto Sun. “I’m not against expressing ourselves. That’s what is great about our country. We can do that.

“But when there are men and women who give their lives for the flag, for their anthem, continue to put themselves on the line, families that have been disrupted, traumatic physical injuries, traumatic mental injuries with these people, who give us the opportunity to do the things we want to do, there is no chance an anthem and a flag should come into any type of situation where you are trying to make a point.”

Related: Seth Jones has ‘no problem’ with Tortorell’s anthem stance