By Dory LeBlanc
Since leaving Tampa Bay as head coach following the 2008-09 season, John Tortorella has returned several times to the building where he hoisted his only Stanley Cup.
Tonight, as skipper of the Vancouver Canucks, the return will be different.
The Lightning will honor the 2004 Championship team Monday night and as coach of the Tampa Bay team that defeated all odds, Tortorella will also be honored.
Speaking to the media after today's practice, the winningest American-born coach in NHL history talked about how special the process of winning the Cup was.
"I guess what I'll share with you, for me anyway, it wasn't the last game and winning it," Tortorella said, "To me, it was I had the honor of watching athletes go through 60-plus days of every other day and all of the swings in momentum, the injuries and what they had to do. And I was able to watch that.
"It was the hardest trophy to win out of the sports and the front-row seat I had was to watch the athletes handle themselves grind through that. That's the most rewarding. And that's what I'm talking about: the process.
"When you go through a process as an organization, for a number of years that we got there to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup - none of us knew we were going to win a Stanley Cup that year - and I think some of the innocence - that's what helped us, there wasn't that pressure, because we didn't have a clue what we were doing; we were just playing.
"I just have such a true respect for the athletes and what they have to do. And I'm watching. That was rewarding."
One aspect of having his name on the Stanley Cup that remains special to Tortorella is what the win meant for the Tampa Bay community.
"I know going through that parade and all of that stuff we did after, you could tell is was a community thing," Tortorella said. "I think it made it very special."
Not a traditionally sentimental figure, Tortorella acknowledged that there is a bond that will always hold them together.
"It's hard to explain, if you didn't go through it, it's hard to explain" Tortorella said. "I'm not a big reminicent guy, but I think I owe that team to speak out. It is the tenth-year anniversary and you're locked in, you're locked in. That's never going to change."
The Lightning will hold a full alumni signing from 5:30-6:30pm on Ford Thunder Alley prior to the 7:30pm game. The organization will also be giving each fan in attendance a replica of the Championship ring.
To hear John Tortorella speak after the Canucks' morning skate, click below: