By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 26, 2009
New York Rangers Coach John Tortorella has been suspended one game by the NHL for squirting a fan with water and throwing a water bottle into the crowd Friday night at Verizon Center.
Tortorella will miss today's Game 6 at Madison Square Garden, where the Rangers will be aiming to close out the Washington Capitals.
"While it is a difficult decision to suspend a coach at this point in a playoff series, it has been made clear to all of our players, coaches and other bench personnel that the National Hockey League cannot -- and will not -- tolerate any physical contact with fans," league disciplinarian Colin Campbell said in a statement last night. "We do not take this action lightly."
Campbell handed down his decision after a day-long investigation that included review of video, an interview with Tortorella, other Rangers' personnel on the bench and security officials at Verizon Center.
"That investigation revealed that Mr. Tortorella squirted a fan with water before Mr. Tortorella was doused with a beverage," Campbell's statement continued. "While, in these circumstances, it always is easy to allege mitigating circumstances, the fact is we do not tolerate contact with our fans in this manner."
The incident occurred early in the third period of the Capitals' 4-0 victory in Game 5. During a television timeout, Tortorella turned around on the Rangers' bench and hurled a water bottle over the plexiglass partition into the crowd, where it struck a fan on the head.
Tortorella then grabbed one of his players' sticks and waved it menacingly in the direction of the fan before security arrived on the scene. Television replays also showed Tortorella wiping a liquid off his suit, though it was unclear how he got wet.
Before the season, the league issued a memo to league personnel regarding contact with fans. The memo read, in part: "Even where a fan is verbally abusive, intoxicated, or profane, club personnel should either ignore the conduct or, where appropriate, seek the assistance of police or security personnel at the arena."
It's unclear who will lead the Rangers today. Most teams have three coaches, but the Rangers only have two -- Tortorella and assistant Jim Schoenfeld.
Earlier yesterday, Tortorella spoke to reporters at the Rangers' practice facility in New York and said he expected to coach today.
"Am I coaching tomorrow?" Tortorella said to reporters. "Sure."
For the second straight day, Tortorella, who replaced Tom Renney on Feb. 23, declined to discuss the incident publicly, saying, "I've been asked, as far as that situation, not to comment on that. By my boss."