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Be yourself: Cup Final coaches could (mercifully) kill in-game interview

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist

Darryl Sutter (above), John Tortorella and Peter DeBoer have become interview thrillers. (US Presswire)  
Darryl Sutter (above), John Tortorella and Peter DeBoer have become interview thrillers. (US Presswire)  

The Los Angeles Kings have returned to the Stanley Cup Final, and with them the man who gets a royalty every time someone says "taciturn," Darryl John Sutter.

Against him and his, there will be either be the New Jersey Devils and Peter DeBoer, or the New York Rangers and John Tortorella, two more guys who, when they put their minds to it, can empty a room faster than a failed chemistry experiment.

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What this means for hockey fans is clear. It's the Stanley Cup Final, and that is self-explanatory. What it means for non-hockey fans, though, is even more important.

Sutter and whichever coach comes out of the Eastern Conference semifinals can, without even colluding, finally kill the idea of the coach's in-game interview. And for that alone, if they can manage it, they should both be put in the Broadcasters' Hall of Fame.

Tortorella has gotten the most notoriety for his often combative and outright disdainful postgame interviews, although his work after the Rangers lost Game 4 was a disappointment in every way -- he was nice, cooperative and even said "thank you" after a question he declined to answer.

DeBoer is aggressively, stridently and even militantly bland, except on the subject of Tortorella, who he regards as a close personal enemy. And Sutter talks in group settings pretty much the way he looks -- like a guy who is working very hard to swallow his own face.

They have one thing in common, though. They hate being bothered during a game by microphone-bearing wildlife, give lousy answers to whatever question is posed, be it insightful or insipid, and can't leave fast enough.

More profoundly, though, they, like most hockey coaches, provide zero information or insight, because hockey coaches are among the best at hammering their questioners with non-answers to any question. They want the boys to work harder, they want them to win every shift, they have get better on the power play, and they have to just get better. Even if they're winning 9-1. And they will not deviate from this litany even if their trousers are filled with fire ants coated with Icy Hot.

In short, the value of the in-game interview is essentially zero. This is true for every sport that allows it, but hockey coaches being the least open to it, they are the ones best positioned to destroy it.

And whether Sutter is matched against DeBoer or Tortorella, they can provide the service that they, and we the viewers, so desperately need. By being just slightly more of what they already are -- visibly bothered and devotedly unhelpful -- they can convince the folks at the networks who thought this would be "a glimpse inside the team" that all this really is is a glimpse inside the mind of a man whose first instinct is "What are you lookin' at?"

This of course also goes for the players, who while equally cooperative are also equally communicative, because they know their coaches regard interviews the same way they regard groin pulls -- as a necessary evil in the game that is more evil than necessary. The players also believe in working harder and keeping the energy up and winning every shift and, in times of anger or stress, repeating the thing about working harder.

What we are saying is that the in-game interview is a failed attempt at getting closer to the game because coaches are quick to adapt to changing conditions to say less and less. And other than Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final, when DeBoer and Tortorella actually cut out the middle man and decided to interview each other on the subject of inhalation, it remains a failure -- one that should die a merciful death, like the puck that left a trail.

And since we know the networks never give up a gimmick willingly, it falls upon Sutter and his opposite number to the deed on their behalf. It won't even take much of an effort -- a more sneery disposition, a tarter dismissal of a question, or maybe the ace in the hand, an ad lib lecture to the mike jockey in question on the difference between noise and information. You know something like this:

"If you don't get away from us, I will see to it that you are force-fed a skate-sharpener by end of business."

And don't think Sutter, DeBoer and Tortorella wouldn't give it a try if they thought it would help. It would certainly brighten the moments between blocked shots and dead power plays.

Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com.


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