The question many Atlanta Thrashers fans had after associate coach John Torchetti bolted the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks to join the hapless Thrashers is: why Atlanta?
Torchetti will get a chance to tow the vaunted Cup around his hometown Boston for a day in August. And with a nucleus of Marian Hossa and youngsters Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, it was likely that it would be the first of a handful of days where could bring the Cup back to Massachusetts.
In contrast, the Thrashers have done nothing as a franchise. Ten years, one playoff appearance and not a single postseason win. Atlanta is a team that plays in a building that has more banners raised to the rafters for rock band Wide Spread Panic and Philips Arena’s “green” LEEDs certification than for the team’s achievements on the ice.
And Torchetti interviewed for the vacant Atlanta head coaching position, but was passed over in favor of Craig Ramsay instead. Nevertheless, the 46-year-old still wanted to coach here. Even as the No. 2 guy.
Why you ask? Plain and simple, it came down to loyalty and a lasting first impression made by Thrashers GM Rick Dudley. Take that Lebron James.
“When, you get around good people, you always want to be around good people,” Torchetti told a roundtable of bloggers at the Thrashers practice facility in Duluth on Saturday. “It’s a great situation for me. Not many times do you have a chance to move on your own in hockey. I pretty much knew if Duds became a GM, I’d be working for him.”
Dudley and Torchetti met some 26 years ago. Dudley’s long journeyman playing days in the NHL were over. Dudley was in his third year as head coach of the ACHL’s Carolina Thunderbirds. Torchetti was a 19-year-old kid looking to work his way up to the NHL.
The bond between the two was quick and long lasting.
“He’s a mentor of mine,” Torchetti said. “For the first two years (with Carolina), I didn’t even know hockey. We just became friends. I wanted to be like him as a coach. I wanted to work for that guy.”
Dudley and Torchetti’s careers have been intertwined ever since.
It was Dudley who gave Torchetti his first NHL job as an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999. Torchetti was reunited with Dudley with the Florida Panthers and moved once again with Atlanta’s new general manager when he took an assistant GM job in Chicago.
Thus, it comes as no surprise that when Dudley was elevated to GM in Atlanta, Torchetti wasn’t far behind.
“I’ve been with Rick Dudley since I was 19,” Torchetti said. “I’ve been with him off-and-on for 26 years of my life. He’s the reason I went to Chicago. One of my goals is to win a Stanley Cup with him.”
Torchetti is not the only “Dudley man” who has drank from the Stanley Cup and is hoping to return the favor to Dudley, who was has been an architect of Stanley Cup-winning teams, but has never stuck around long enough to win it.
Ramsay also has a long relationship with the Atlanta GM. The new Atlanta coach was the No. 19 overall pick of the Buffalo Sabres in the 1971 NHL draft. Like most minor league eligible rookies, the 20-year old forward headed to the American Hockey League for a bit more seasoning.
It was there that he met Dudley, a scrappy undrafted 22-year-old left wing. The two became roommates and good friends. Almost 40 years later, that bond remains, too.
“This is a great opportunity to me to hook up with an old buddy and come to a great city,” Ramsay said at his introductory press conference. “I’ve known Rick Dudley since 1971. He was my first roommate (in the minor leagues). I went to work for him in Tampa Bay and he put together a great product that helped me win a Stanley Cup (in 2004). As a personal friend, I felt it would be a wonderful opportunity.”