Blue Jackets Analyst Bill Davidge Breaks Down John Tortorella, the Upcoming Season and More

By Jeff Svoboda on July 25, 2017 at 7:31 am
Bill Davidge and Dave Maetzold
Courtesy of the Davidge family

Yesterday, I caught up with Columbus Blue Jackets television analyst Bill Davidge to talk about his fight against cancer and his fund-raising golf outing coming up next month.

Today, we're talking hockey.

While most fans know Davidge as the ever-ebullient expert who has worked for Jackets television and radio since the franchise's first season, his coaching bona fides are pretty impressive as well. After graduating from Ohio State, where he was a four-year letterman from 1974-77, with a degree in education, he began teaching the game at Miami University in Oxford. He helped establish the university's popular hockey school, then served as an assistant next to Steve Cady for the Redskins' early years before a four-year stint as the head coach.

"He's one of the best teachers that I've ever seen," Cady told me in 2014. "He was able to break a skill down, explain the skill. He was a very, very talented athlete at Ohio State, and a lot of guys that are real talented from a skills standpoint struggle to teach it because it just comes natural to them.

"Bill was not that way at all. He knew how to break the components of the skill down and then articulate that to whatever age that he was working with in a way that made it easy for the folks to comprehend and learn."

In other words, Davidge knows how to coach. So the major theme of our chat was what Davidge has observed watching head coach John Tortorella help turn the team around, but the analyst also gave his thoughts on a few more Blue Jackets-themed topics.

1st Ohio Battery: Just to see playoff hockey back in Columbus, the excitement, the atmosphere, seeing the crowds build throughout the year – and considering it's taken a lot of losing to get there – what was it like to see the season develop and see the team have the success that it had?
Davidge: "With John Davidson and Jarmo Kekalainen coming in, they laid the foundation, the philosophy of one brick at a time. John Tortorella was one of those bricks as well when they brought him in. They changed the culture, they changed the entire mind-set of who this team was, what they were, what they tried to do, and when you have a mind-set like that, you're going to have success. I've coached long enough that I've been around winning, I've been around losing, but when you can develop a room that cares and works hard, that's the thing. Torts kept stressing, we want to rebuild the confidence, we want to have some patience and be able to rebuild the identity. He wanted a team that was really confident. If you step back and look at it, he wanted that team to be cocky and arrogant and have a little swagger, but he also wanted to play a game that was real simple. Don't worry about the opponent, worry about your own game. That was the measure that they had, and when you put it into simple terms like that as a player and a coach, it's really easy to follow."

1OB: In the national media, there's still a picture of Torts having an over-the-top personality, but it seems to me like that reputation is a little overdone since he got to Columbus.
Davidge: "I think he's matured a lot. He's the first guy to tell you he thinks things over a heck of a lot more than he did 20-25 years ago when he broke into this business – and don't all of us? We mature and we learn, and you learn what you can do and what you can do. I think he's really embraced the atmosphere here and embraced the media and embraced the people that are around him."

1OB: When you see him, what impresses you about the way he's able to handle the locker room? To me, it's fascinating to see the teaching aspect and the way he's able to get his concepts across.
Davidge: "What he does – and I'm going to go back to when I started coaching and when I played junior hockey – is old school. It starts in training camp and basically he instills in those guys who they can be, not what they are. That to me is the biggest thing, if you can instill into a player what they can possibly turn out to be. There's no better example of that than Nick Foligno. He was able to push Nicky. He told him he didn't think he could be a captain. Well, the Foligno family would not allow that to happen, with his father and the family's history in the game. (Tortorella) challenges you. He wants confrontation. That's how you grow – as long is there is communication back. Now, if you lose that communication, you have yourself a war, but you want to be able to instill into each guy what they can do and how they can do it and how they can be part of something and not just be an individual."

1OB: Did any of the young players at the team's recent development camp catch your eye this summer?
Davidge: "Kevin Stenlund, who is going to stay another year overseas. He really stood out to me. He's going to have a career in the league. It's pretty tough to judge (in such a short time span), but you can pick up talent like that very easily. Stenlund is a guy that really stood out to me."

1OB: One of the hardest things in sports, to me, is when a team has a great year and makes a jump, to do it again the next year. It's hard to keep it going just because sometimes you get comfortable, or more than that, sometimes things go your way one year and not the next. I'm sure that has been a focus of the team this offseason, but do you see what they've done to keep that in mind as they go forward?
Davidge: "Well, if they don't have it in mind, they'll be reminded very quickly. That's the one thing you can certainly expect. The one thing with sports, too, just because there was a champion one year doesn't mean it's going to happen again. I'm thinking of the Chicago Cubs. Here you're on the top and all of a sudden you're struggling to play good ball. Same thing with hockey right now. I'm hoping we take that next step next year to be able to not only be fourth in the league but in the final four teams in the National Hockey League playoffs, to be able to get into a situation where we are contending for the Eastern Conference. That's the step we have to make. There's no guarantees, but you know one thing, they're going to work hard." 

1OB: And if you look at hockey, there's very few teams where you can just go in and think, 'We should be able to get this one.' There's so much talent in this league and it's such a difficult league.
Davidge: "You better believe it. With the Metropolitan Division, we proved that last year. Two of the top three teams in the league were knocked out by the second round. I'm not a big fan of the playoff system. This year it was the Metro, next year it could be somebody else, but I think you have to change the playoff system so your best teams have a chance. Nashville had a pretty good run, but they weren't the second best team in the National Hockey League. Basketball had it right. You had the top two teams playing. I'd like to see that happen in hockey."