On Sunday morning, Riverside Park was flooded with people and canines for the first annual Rangers Dog Walk with Coach Tortorella. Hosted by the John & Christine Tortorella Family Foundation, in conjunction with the national organization Best Friends Animal Society, the event raised money for the Westchester Humane Society and other organizations dedicated to promoting the humane treatment of animals.
Hundreds of fans—both of the Rangers and of dogs—signed up for the event over the course of the summer, and registration tables were further flooded with same-day entries this morning. The line to enter the event, while already hundreds-deep by 8am, featured as many dog-sized Rangers jerseys as it did people-sized jerseys, and everyone was in good spirits. Ahead of the event, current and former players mingled throughout the crowd and happily posed for photos, signed autographs, and talked shop with fans. Some—including Dan Girardi—came with their whole families, while others, like Henrik Lundqvist—came with their own canine participant.
After a few brief words of thanks from Coach Tortorella, the walk began. Taking advantage of the dwindling summer weather, the crowd completed a loop through Riverside Park at a nice pace, stopping only for the occasional photo with players who were conspicuously the few walkers who were not wearing Rangers garb.
Following the walk, Coach Tortorella—seemingly out of character for anyone that remembers the brevity of his interviews during the playoffs—willingly participated in a lively 20-minute Q&A session as fans sat on the grassy hill around him. He spoke with passion about the work he has done with humane dog shelters, and about the newest member of the Tortorella family, Blaze, his fourth rescue.1
Coach Tortorella also accepted and answered questions from a number of fans, about hockey and non-hockey topics alike.
Some highlights below:
Q:Speaking about being a head coach of an original-six team and having a platform to support a cause like this:
A“To have an opportunity to coach in this city in a head coaching position, it does open doors… we want to try to take as many opportunities while we are in this position—before you guys try to kick me the hell out of here!—and try to make a difference.”
Q: About the Rangers chances going forward:
A:“I think we have become a really good hockey club. I think we have really good people… I believe—I’m not going to predict—but I think it’s a team that’s going to be very competitive for a long time because we’re so youthful and [the players] go about their business the right way.”
Q:About the recent roster developments, namely the acquisition of Nash:
A:“[Nash is] here; I saw him. I’ve talked to him once, I don’t know who the hell he is, but I’ve heard such great things about him! I’ve seen him play from afar… I’ve talked to a few players that know him, and he’s going to fit in… We have him at a great time in his career… I think the next step for him is to get us there and become that impact player that I believe he will be for us.”
Q:On the potential lockout:
A: “I’m not paying any attention to it… we will be ready for our camp 9/21. If we get the go-ahead, we’ll be ready to go. If they say that we have to wait a few days, we’ll be ready to go then. My opinion, and it’s very uneducated…is that we don’t want this hiccup here and when it gets down to those last hours, something is going to get done.”
Q: On Chris Kreider’s development:
A:“He made a tremendous impact on our team in the playoffs… I think he can be a really big part of our club.”
Q: On Lundqvist, as someone in the crowd asked what kind of dog he would be if he were one:
A:“A pit bull. No question, a pit bull. Now if you’re talking about Brad Richards, it might be different…!”
Q: On Nash’s potential linemates:
A: “We’re definitely going to try to work Brad [Richards] and Nash together, especially with Gabby [Marion Gaborik] being hurt… I think it will work—I’m really anxious to see them play together.”
When asked who is the team-to-beat in the NHL this season: “The New York Rangers,” an answer which lead to quite a roar from the crowd.
On the chances of seeing Michael Sauer in the beginning of the season: ”I don’t think you’ll see Michael. Michael hasn’t responded that well—I’ll be quite honest—I do not think you’ll see him at the beginning of the season.”
The event, which Coach Tortorella billed as the first in a series of annual dog walks which will be hosted and sponsored by his foundation, was a rousing success and was enjoyed by everyone in attendance, whether two-legged or four-legged.
1. As an aside, Christine Tortorella is currently on crutches as a result of blaze having “run her over” recently, a story that John willingly shared with the crowd