GLENDALE, Ariz. — Not long after delivering an illegal hit on Marian Hossa that sent the Blackhawks winger to the hospital with a severe concussion last spring, Raffi Torres called and told Hossa he planned to change his style of play.
“That’s what he actually said, that he was going to have lots of time to work on his skills,” Hossa said Tuesday before breaking into laughter. “So, we’ll see, huh?”
Torres had plenty of time to work on other aspects of his game than the roughshod play that caused injuries and ill feelings throughout the league for years while the Coyotes winger served a 21-game suspension for the April 17 hit on Hossa during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
On Thursday night at Jobing.com Arena, Torres will play his third game since the end of the suspension and will share the ice with Hossa for the first time since sending the Hawks veteran off on a stretcher.
“Whatever happens out there, happens out there,” Torres said Wednesday after the Coyotes’ practice in Scottsdale, Ariz. “It’s hockey — both teams are out to get the two points. We’ll see how it pans out.”
The suspension, which first was handed down at 25 games and later adjusted to 21, was Torres’ sixth fine or suspension during his career. He apparently has determined to make it his last.
“We have to protect the top players in the league and if it’s going to take me thinking a little bit out there instead of running around with my head cut off, then that’s what it’s going to take,” Torres, 31, said. “I need to keep playing. This is what I want to do. And if I want to keep playing in this league, I’m going to have change the way (I play). I’ve done some of the right things over the summer and the first two games to do that.”
Torres worked with Coyotes coach Dave Tippett to alter a style of play that has made him Public Enemy No. 1 with fans of many teams — and some players.
“We talked a lot, looked at a lot of video and a lot of situations that we think we can help him out,” Tippett said. “He just has had some reckless in his game, and not just the one in the playoffs last year, but before that. So we’ve tried to show him instances where he has gone out of his way to deliver a hit that, if we take those out of his game, he still can be a very competitive player without the recklessness.”
Torres appears intent on moving on from the latest black eye on his career that began with the Islanders in 2001-02 and has included stops with the Oilers, Blue Jackets, Sabres, Canucks and now Coyotes.
“I was over it the day after they told me I got 25 games,” Torres said. “For the things that happen negative to you, there’s always a positive that comes out of it. I learned a lot about myself through these eight or nine months. I feel I can take on anything.”
Whether Torres will have to take on a vengeful Hawks player or two during Thursday’s game remains to be seen. The subplot in the second meeting between the Western Conference rivals this season will be how Hossa and the Hawks retaliate against Torres — if at all.
“Obviously, it’s a thing you don’t forget,” Hossa said. “But I’m not that type of player who will drop the gloves and fight. I’ll try to play my best and just play my regular game.”
Added Hawks teammate Jamal Mayers: “We know it was a dirty hit. There’s no place for it in the game but our focus going into Thursday night is going to be the hockey game. We’re going to play between the whistles and we’ll see what happens.”
The Hawks were in a similar situation Friday night when they took on the Canucks in Vancouver in the second game of their current six-stop trip. That contest was the first time Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith faced the Canucks after injuring winger Daniel Sedin with an elbow to the head late last season and drawing a five-game suspension. The Canucks stuck to business in the game, focusing on winning rather than retribution and pulled it off with a 2-1 shootout victory.
“It’s kind of comparable history,” Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “You have to be smart and disciplined and stick together. Getting even is winning the hockey game.”
Added Hossa: “I think it’s going to be just a normal game. I don’t expect anything. (But) we’ll see.”
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