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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Complete turnaround with Torts, Parise

In covering the Devils-Rangers series, which has definitely been exciting, one amazing thing happened yesterday.

After the Rangers' 3-0 victory, the surly, abrasive and media-unfriendly John Tortorella was suddenly chatty and jovial in his post-game press conference. Gone were the one-word answers to questions. He waxed poetic over goalie Henrik Lundqvist, who was once again downright brilliant. He practically sang the praises of rookie Chris Kreider, who has gone from being a Boston College star to a goal-scoring machine for the Rangers in the matter of weeks. He went on and on about Brad Richards' contributions on both ends of the ice.

After the way Rangers head coach Tortorella handled the media in recent weeks, his behavior yesterday was beyond shocking. I sat there at the press conference, shaking my head in amazement. Why did Tortorella choose yesterday to become all of a sudden friendly? Did he receive a warning from the higher-ups in the NHL, saying that enough was enough? Did his attitude change because the Rangers finally won a game? Someone mentioned that might be the reason, but he was downright confrontational after winning previous big games in the playoffs.

His act of not answering questions was definitely wearing thin. It was not funny for anyone, not for Rangers fans, who want to know more, but also for the members of the media who need at least a little pearl of wisdom coming from the head coach. We don't have to quote every word, but we do need something after a game _ and before yesterday, Tortorella offered absolutely nothing.

Then, go over to the other side. Ever since he was a young rookie, Zach Parise has always been one of the more accessible and affable members of the Devils. In a locker room packed with really good guys who never turn down a single interview request ever (the best group of professionals I've ever dealt with in my 30-year career), Parise has always been the easiest to get along with, joking with everyone, answering every single mundane question under the sun.

Even last year, with his contract status in question and after having undergone serious knee surgery, Parise never once ducked a single question. You could joke with him. You could ask him personal stuff. Parise is nothing short of a sportswriter's joy. If Marty Brodeur is the first person I track down when I enter the Devils' locker room, then the captain is always second. It's been that way for as long as I can remember and I've been in the Devils' locker room about 200 times over Parise's career, maybe more.

That's why Parise's refusal to answer questions after yesterday's game was befuddling, almost as much as Tortorella's sudden injection of niceness. Parise was approached by a few reporters and he shook his head, said he wasn't answering questions and disappeared into the training room, not to return.

I actually shuttered as this took place. A member of the Devils actually saying no? Even Ilya Kovalchuk, who isn't a great interview because of his still-improving grasp of the English language, answered questions. The captain? The extremely likeable Parise? Needless to say, it was shocking.

Maybe Parise is frustrated with his play, but that never happened before. Maybe Parise didn't like the fact that his father, former Islander and Ranger J.P. Parise, told the New York Post that his son wouldn't mind playing for the Rangers and would consider signing with the Blueshirts during the free agency period this summer. Maybe Parise just had a bad day. Who knows?

The irony of the whole thing is that my good friend and colleague, Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record, wrote a column on page 2 of the Record yesterday. In that column, Gulitti, also one of the most likeable people in the business, said that it was ridiculous that Tortorella should ignore the media as he has been doing and he should take a page from someone like Parise.

And then the turn of events that take place yesterday. Tortorella suddenly becomes the media darling for some reason and Parise becomes the media bad guy, equally as fast.

It made me leave the Prudential Center yesterday shaking my head, wondering if that all really had happened.

I'm heading back there in an hour or so. We'll see if Parise is still not talking to the media. My guess is that he'll be apologetic and be the wonderful young man he's always been.


Another team that I cover regularly is the New York Red Bulls and the team won their fifth straight game last night, defeating the Montreal Impact, tying the franchise record for consecutive wins in the process.

And the team won again without the services of international superstar Thierry Henry and fellow international disgruntled annoyance Rafa Marquez, who has certainly already worn out his welcome here.

It's astounding in a league totally dominated by Pete Rozelle-like parity that a team could actually win five straight matches. It's even more remarkable that the Red Bulls could do such with an injury-ravaged lineup with a still wet behind the ears goalie in Ryan Meara and a completely makeshift defensive backline filled with inexperienced players. Stop the season now. Head coach Hans Backe has to be the MLS Coach of the Year right this second, despite anything that happens the rest of the way.

However, one thing is for sure. The Red Bulls certainly do not need the antics of Marquez, who didn't play again last night, this time claiming that he had a sore Achilles tendon.

Let's see, Marquez started the season missing three games due to a suspension he got from last year after throwing the ball at Landon Donovan in the final game of the playoffs, comes back this season, plays a handful of games, gets another suspension for an ugly, dirty play that broke an opponent's collarbone, sits out the three-game suspension, misses the first game back because of an apparent ankle injury, plays one game, then misses the next with an Achilles injury.

This is one of your superstar marquee players? He's a disease. His level of play last year was mediocre at best and certainly not worthy of the $3.5 million salary he was paid. His level of play this year, supposedly at midfield instead of defender, can't be judged because he's either been suspended or injured for most of the season.

Marquez is also very good at playing the game that he can't speak English, but when someone asks a controversial question, his ears perk up and then he suddenly understands. Rey Ordonez used to pull the same crap during his days with the Mets.

The Red Bulls traded a teenage superstar-in-the-making last week in Juan Agudelo, who never had a chance to show his incredible skills. But Agudelo was never a complete malcontent like Marquez has been. The Red Bulls would be much better off showing Marquez the door, ship him to someone who can handle his antics. Right now, it's proof. They really don't need him at all. The five-game win streak proves it.


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