Harry Neale stands behind the bench as he watch his team, the Vancouver Canucks take on an unidentified opponent, March 1984. (Photo by B Bennett/Getty Images)
If John Tortorella was a firefighter, his attempt to battle through a bunch of flames to get at Bob Hartley would likely have us hailing him as a hero today. And speaking of heroes, if he was playing Guitar Hero 3, and he tackled through the fire and flames, we’d all be pretty impressed by that too.
Unfortunately for Tortorella, he is neither regular hero nor a Guitar Hero — he’s the coach of the Vancouver Canucks — which is why his actions Saturday night earned him a 15-day suspension by the NHL on Monday.
It’s the fourth-longest coach suspension in NHL history based on games lost, and based on days, it actually puts Tortorella into a tie for the bronze medal with Don Perry, formerly of the Los Angeles Kings, who was handed the same 15-day suspension in 1982 for ordering his players to leave the bench during a massive bench-clearing brawl versus — wait for it — the Canucks.
There’s video of this:
So which coaches have received longer suspensions? The second-longest goes to Harry Neale, also of your Vancouver Canucks, who was sentenced to 10 games in 1982 for punching a fan during a brawl that spilled into the stands.
There’s video of this.
Just one of the many reasons open-air stands are a terrible idea.
And the longest goes to Tom Webster of the 1991 L.A. Kings. Webster was dinged for a whopping 12 games after a temper tantrum in which he threw a stick, javelin-style, at then-referee Kerry Fraser and hit him in the foot.
There’s video of this (at no. 1 on this TSN top 10 list):
It may seem a bit odd that this garnered the longest-ever coach suspension — he barely touched him! — but context is key here. Webster, who was borderline insane, was a repeat offender, having been suspended four games the season prior for punching Doug Gilmour during a game.
Oh, you’d better believe there’s video of this.
That, by the way, is the fifth-longest coach suspension ever.
In other words, with this ban, the Kings and Canucks now alternate 1-2-3-4-5 on the list of the longest coaching suspensions in NHL history. Take a look:
There must be something in the water on the West Coast.
Here’s Neale explaining his fan punch, via NHL.com:
“We had a little trouble in Vancouver,” said Neale about the incident at Le Colisee. “In Quebec City, they had, at that time, no protection from the benches. It was just carved out of the seats. The people were sitting with you. Tiger Williams, one of our tougher players, got pinned against the boards and a fan ran down two rows, about five seats over from the bench and punched Tiger. So I ran off the bench to get this fan and I have often wondered why I would be defending Tiger Williams, he was one of the toughest guys in hockey. But nevertheless I did. Two or three of my players came with me to help me out. (NHL President John) Ziegler didn’t think it was as amusing as many people did and suspended me for eight games. So the last four games of the season Roger Neilson, who was my assistant coach, took over, and then (coached) the first four in the playoffs. Being as smart as I was, because I was going to be the next general manager, I said ‘Roger, you continue and coach’ and, of course, that was the year we went to the Final.”
But it wasn’t just that Neale had a better job lined up anyway: it’s that his suspension keyed a magical run that no one, especially not a bunch of superstitious hockey dudes, wanted to mess with.
Neale actually missed the last six games of the regular season, during which time the Canucks went unbeaten under assistant coach Roger Neilsen, outscoring their opponents 33 to 14.
They carried that momentum into the playoffs, sweeping the Calgary Flames in the first round. Neale was eligible to return midway through round 2 versus the Kings (who are everywhere in this post), but by then the Canucks had already taken Game 1 of the series. You can see why he might be loath to touch anything.
Sure enough, the Canucks breezed by LA too, winning that series, 4-1. Next up, the Conference final versus the Chicago Blackhawks where towel power was born. We all know how that went.
Safe to say that fans would probably love it if Tortorella’s suspension has a similar galvanizing power, especially if it means playoff wins over the Kings and Blackhawks.