Tortorella 'not backing off' vow to bench players over national anthem

COLUMBUS — U.S. World Cup of Hockey coach John Tortorella said he has heard from “a number” of people regarding his Tuesday vow to bench any player who doesn’t stand for the national anthem and he hasn’t changed his mind.

“I’m not backing off — I’ll tell you right now,” Tortorella said. “Try to understand me. I’m not criticizing anybody for stepping up and putting their thoughts out there about things. I’m the furthest thing away from being anything political. No chance I’m involved in that stuff. (But) this is your anthem. This your flag. That shouldn’t come into play for a second.”

Tortorella has a son serving in the military overseas, and on Wednesday a military representative made a scheduled inspirational speech to the players as part of their preparation to represent USA in the World Cup of Hockey, starting Sept. 17 in Toronto.

“We are playing hockey,” Tortorella said. “Other people are doing real stuff. This gentleman who spoke to us this morning is doing the real stuff. Life and death. We just want to give to our country in our own little way. Quite honestly we are entertainers. What this man talked about in our locker room and what he does casts a huge shadow over us as far as what we’re doing."

Tortorella, whose regular job is coaching the Columbus Blue Jackets, is known in the NHL for his fiery and passionate approach to his job and life.

“I don’t know what’s being written out there and I don’t care,” Tortorella said.  "I really don’t. I feel very strongly of being able to say what you want to say in your way about (being) upset with things. You’re dead on. You have your right to do that. But to bring that flag and anthem into it and drag that down, no way. So I feel strongly both ways.”

Tortorella said some players have talked to him about his benching comment, made in an interview with ESPN, and their reaction was positive.

“I don’t think it was anything — everyone knows the situation. There is so much respect for that flag and that anthem that it is just coming out,” said San Jose Sharks forward Joe Pavelski, who was named USA’s captain on Wednesday.

Because he plays in San Jose, Pavelski has attended San Francisco 49ers games, but he does not know quarterback Colin Kaepernick, whose decision not to stand for the anthem as a form of political protest has sparked a country-wide debate.

“It’s a situation where you wish it was handled a little bit differently,” Pavelski said. “Everybody has their opinion, and they are entitled to that. You just try to do it the right way, and move on.”

Pavelski said the soldier’s speech to players left him with goosebumps. “What they do,” said Pavelski, “is so much more important than what we do.”

Pavelski’s alternate captains will be Ryan Suter (Minnesota Wild) and Patrick Kane (Chicago Blackhawks), while Ryan McDonagh (New York Rangers), David Backes (Boston Bruins), Ryan Kesler (Anaheim Ducks) and Zach Parise (Wild) were also named to the “leadership group.”


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