Atkinson believes Tortorella right choice to fix Flyers

Cam Atkinson

VOORHEES, N.J. – If you want an educated opinion on just about anything involving new Flyers head coach John Tortorella, the man you want to speak to is Cam Atkinson.

Atkinson, who came over from Columbus a year ago in the Jake Voracek trade, spent six seasons playing for Tortorella when the two were together on the Blue Jackets.

Obviously, one look at Atkinson’s stats from Ohio tells you there’s a good relationship there.

The Flyers are hoping that sort of good vibe carries over to this season in Philadelphia.

During Tuesday’s press briefing at the Flyers Training Center, several of the opening questions to Atkinson centered around what kind of training camp the players can expect when things officially get underway next week.

By all accounts, Tortorella is going to be challenging his players at every turn.

Asked if there was a big difference between the camps of ‘Torts’ in Columbus and Atkinson’s first under ex-Flyers coach Alain Vigneault last year, Atkinson sported a big grin.

“Yes,’’ he said with a laugh, “there was.’’

He then clarified those remarks because no NHL training camp is a cakewalk.

“Not that last year wasn’t hard,’’ he said. “I feel like training camp is always pretty tough. Just kind of getting into battles and one-on-ones.

“But Torts’ camps there are no surprises. One thing I appreciated is we’re all doing it together. It’s a grind. It’s a way for us to build that camaraderie, that brotherhood. There’s a rhyme for the reason. It’s meant to be hard.’’

Atkinson then got into specifics over what to expect once camp gets going. With the Flyers coming off a pair of playoff misses, there’s a sense of urgency as soon as you walk into the FTC.

As mentioned, it sounds like Tortorella will be demanding from day one.

“There’s the mental aspect of it,’’ Atkinson said. “Playing when you’re tired. That’s one of his big philosophies, playing when you’re tired. It’s the amount of skating, that’s another huge component. It’s taxing on your legs. It’s not fun when you’re doing it but it’s great when you get over that hump.’’

If the other players are experiencing butterflies over a challenging camp, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

“That’s what you want,’’ Atkinson said. “I know first-hand and I still get a little anxious about it. I’ve told them a million times what to expect. But it’s a good feeling. He (Tortorella) wants to see who’s going to quit and who’s going to keep it going when times are not going your way. But it’s good for us, we need it.’’

One thing Atkinson wants to make clear to the team’s fan base is Tortorella cares about the players he coaches. He’s dedicated to getting this thing turns around and Atkinson believes he’s the right man to fix it.

“He cares, maybe a little bit too much, about his players,’’ Atkinson said. “He wants to win as much as we do. Who’s ever going that night, he’s going to throw you out there because he wants to win games. I think this fan base is really going to embrace that.’’

Atkinson has said it before but he reiterated it again on Tuesday – not everything was peaches and cream between the two men in the Blue Jacket locker room.

“I need to have someone push me to my limits,’’ Atkinson admitted. “You’re not always going to see eye-to-eye. There were times when we didn’t. We got into those little screaming matches. But I kind of thrive on that.

“Our relationship has been amazing. He’s been my coach for six years. It’s not always supposed to be good. He communicates. In the offseason, when he’s not coaching, he reaches out and ask how your family is doing. That goes a long way in my book.’’

Tortorella has been coaching in the NHL since 1999-2000 season and his 673 career wins rank 14th alltime on the NHL list and second to ex-Flyer coach Peter Laviolette (717) on the American-born coaches’ list.


>Reducing goals-against number


Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher wants to get that glaring red minus-87 number turned around quickly this season.

Atkinson believes Tortorella will make that a high priority.

“Absolutely,’’ Atkinson said. “He helped us in Columbus by playing the right way, playing defense first. That allows you to play freely in the offensive zone. It’s amazing, when you play quick and hard in the defensive zone it leads to good zone time in the offensive zone, where everyone wants to play.’’


>No letter needed


Along with Sean Couturier, Atkinson has been mentioned as a candidate for the team’s vacant captaincy. Many believe Atkinson would be a natural fit because of his relationship with Tortorella.

“For me, personally, I don’t need a letter to solidify my leadership role,’’ Atkinson said. “I’ve been around long enough that I know where I stand in the locker room. I’m a guy who tries to lead by example. No matter what, I’m going to be vocal, I’m going to practice just as hard. Whatever happens, I’m always ready for the challenge.’’


>Sanheim ready to go


Travis Sanheim, who won both the Barry Ashbee Trophy for best Flyers defenseman as well as the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy for most improved player last season, says he welcomes the new coaching regime.

“We were disappointed with last season but most of us see that as a one-off,’’ Sanheim said. “I think bringing in Torts, getting everyone healthy. . .I believe those are a couple big steps for us. Looking forward to it.’’

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About Wayne Fish 2446 Articles
Wayne Fish has been covering the Flyers since 1976, a stint which includes 18 Stanley Cup Finals, four Winter Olympics and numerous other international events.