MINNEAPOLIS – John Torchetti got a few messages from the Blackhawks when he was named the Minnesota Wild’s interim coach. Nice gestures from his former bosses.
“I had some great texts, from Joel [Quenneville] and [team president] John McDonough wishing me good luck except for when we play them,” Torchetti said on Saturday. “So it’s a big game. But for us, I want to see where we’re at.”
A few years ago Torchetti was standing with the Blackhawks, hoisting that Stanley Cup that broke the franchise’s long drought without it. On Sunday afternoon he’ll be behind the other bench.
The former Blackhawks associate coach is currently the Minnesota Wild’s interim coach, getting the nod after the Wild fired head coach Mike Yeo last week. Playing his former team is a thrill, but Torchetti has bigger concerns at the moment.
“Yeah, it’s exciting. It’ll be fun to see the guys back on the ice,” Torchetti said. “But after the puck drops it is just another game, you know?”
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Torchetti was part of the Blackhawks’ coaching staff from 2007 to 2010, when he joined the Atlanta Thrashers. During his time there Torchetti brought life to the Blackhawks’ power play. He also let Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane spread their wings on the ice.
“He brought a lot to our power play. He made things simple for us, never overcomplicated things. He allowed our skill to go out there and make things happen offensively, 5-on-5 and the power play as well,” Jonathan Toews said. “I guess that team is looking for a change. We know they’ll be a different team, especially in that game, knowing what they’ve been through lately.”
“He’s one of those guys that I only have good things to say about,” he said. “Our power play was effective when he was here; he was one of those guys that brought me and Tazer on the ice early in our careers before practice to work on some things. Good offensive mind for the game and I really liked him as a person, too.”
Torchetti was named interim coach of a Wild team that was sinking fast in the Central Division; the Wild had lost eight in a row and 13 of their previous 14 when Yeo was fired. Since Torchetti took over the Wild have won three in a row heading into this weekend’s division game on a very grand stage.
Justin Fontaine said he’s learned plenty from Torchetti, be it in his time with the Wild or during his minor-league days – Torchetti coached the Houston Aeros during Fontaine’s time there.
“He’s a real energetic guy,” Fontaine said. “You can tell how much he cares about the game. He’s great with systems. He taught me a lot about pro hockey coming from college, and how to adapt to this style of play and pro hockey all around. I have a lot of praise for Torts. He’s been a good coach for me. Even coming in and sparking the team here and going over a lot of things, we have a lot more energy on the bench, a lot more communication and it’s been going in the right direction.”
Jason Zucker said there is a difference between the Torchetti and Yeo’s approaches.
“Every coach is a little different. Nobody’s going to be the same. Torch is a little bit more vocal and … animated. Yeo was a lot more controlled in the way he went about things,” Zucker said. “But everyone has their own way of doing things, and there’s no right or wrong or good or bad with that.”
The Blackhawks are very familiar with their foe and its new coach. The Wild coach is, in turn, familiar with the Blackhawks’ system and their core group of players. They once did a lot of great things together. They’ll be friendly again soon enough but right now, Torchetti is focused on trying to help the Wild turn a season around again.
“I love the game. You have to play with a lot of passion and play with detail and execute. For me, I’m all about the players. My job is to make you a better hockey player and that’s what it’s all about moving forward,” Torchetti said. “I look forward to coaching every day and seeing my players on the ice, then seeing the product work on the ice. That’s the best part about teaching: there’s no ceiling to it.”