Return of coach Darryl Sutter ignited Calgary Flames

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WATCH: The Calgary Flames are set to start their playoff run on Tuesday with fans and businesses more than ready. As Lauren Pullen reports, the city has now released its playoff preparation plan. – May 2, 2022

Eyebrows may have disappeared into hairlines when the Calgary Flames rehired Darryl Sutter, but the team’s turnaround under the laconic rancher is indisputable.

In a swing from 2021 playoff bust to 2022 Stanley Cup contender, the Flames responded to Sutter’s tough-love coaching methods.

Calgary, which finished first in the Pacific Division, opens the playoffs Tuesday at home against the Dallas Stars. It will be Sutter’s first playoff game in six years.

“I’ve been kind of waiting for it for a while,” Sutter said Monday. “It’s why you play right?”

Read more: Darryl Sutter has ‘unfinished business’ as he returns to Calgary Flames

Righting a ship creates waves. Hired March 4, 2021, Sutter returned to an NHL club he’d previously managed and coached prepared to make them.

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Why did he want to?

After 18 years as a head coach and two Stanley Cup wins with the Los Angeles Kings, Sutter was an adviser to the Anaheim Ducks’ coaching staff at that time and appeared to be leaning into his work on the family cattle ranch in Alberta.

“I’m a Flames fan. I didn’t like the way they were playing,” the 63-year-old from Viking, Alta., said recently. “I didn’t think they would be a playoff team last year. I knew it was going to take some time, that’s for sure.

“There were areas coming in that they weren’t in a position mentally or physically to even compete for a playoff spot and you had to do a total reset with them.

“As a coach, you have to get in there and figure out how can you help that player become a better player or change? Become a better team player? That is a hard job. Hard to do.”

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Calgary Flames gear up for playoffs – Apr 29, 2022

Within days of replacing Geoff Ward, Sutter’s blunt comment about star winger Johnny Gaudreau’s lack of energy in a game indicated the Flames, no matter their status, couldn’t expect diplomacy in their coach’s public assessment of their performance.

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“I think bringing Darryl in was good for our team,” Gaudreau said just over a year later on a night when Calgary locked into the playoffs with games to spare.

Read more: Calgary Flames rehire Darryl Sutter as head coach after firing Geoff Ward

Gaudreau sees similarities between Sutter and Bob Hartley, who coached the Flames to the second round of the post-season in 2015.

“I don’t think we’ve had a coach like him probably dating back to Bob Hartley,” Gaudreau said Monday. “Just demanding of their team, expects a lot out of every player, every shift.

“They’re not the same coaches, but kind of haven’t had a coach here in a long time that’s been like Darryl like that. I just think he’s done a great job with our team. He’s brought our group together.”

Sutter’s refusal to spare players’ egos always set him apart in the NHL’s coaching ranks. Conservative with praise, and even words a lot of the time, his unfiltered assessments land with weight.

Read more: Preparations underway for Calgary Flames playoff run

When asked about how he felt about his inclusion in the conversation for the Jack Adams Award that goes to the NHL’s top coach, he replied: “Do you know who Jack Adams was? He was a miserable old guy.”

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Chuckles followed a stunned pause in March when Sutter said “if you are a wild-card team I sure as hell don’t want to play Colorado in the first round because it’ll be a waste of eight days.”

That went missing from public hockey discourse during Sutter’s adviser stint with the Ducks. There’s layers beneath that taciturn exterior, according to Ducks coach Dallas Eakins.

“I think the biggest misconception of Darryl is this big, harsh Sutter vibe,” Eakins said in October when the Ducks faced the Flames in Calgary’s home-opener.

“Hey, he is a hard man. He’s a farmer at heart, but that guy is one of the most caring, loving coaches to his players that I’ve seen. He truly cares about his players, so it’s always interesting the narrative that gets out there.”

“He looks like he’s pissed off every day of his life, but he’s really not,” Eakins added

“The other thing you probably don’t know about him is he’s a great accumulator and thief of reading glasses. I’d have my reading glasses, the ones from Costco all over the place, and when he would leave, they would be all gone. Just accidentally, I’m sure.”

Read more: Calgary Flames start 2021 NHL season with head coach Darryl Sutter, new leadership

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Sutter dedicated the first win of his second coaching stint with the Flames to his mother Grace on her 85th birthday. Grace and Louis raised seven sons. Six, including Darryl, became NHL players.

Sutter and wife Wanda have three children. The youngest, Chris, has Down syndrome. On World Down Syndrome Day last month, Sutter said, “We’re thankful to have him. He’s a breath of fresh air every day.”

Sutter’s roots in the Flames organization run deep with seven years as the club’s GM (2003-10), including three as head coach over that time.

His rehire in Calgary brought back a man who led the franchise to its greatest post-season success since winning the Stanley Cup in 1989.

With Sutter behind the bench, Calgary lost in the seventh game of the 2004 Stanley Cup final to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After leaving the Flames in 2010, he coached the Kings to Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014.

Flames forward Trevor Lewis, who earned those two championship rings with Sutter, sees no alteration in him in Calgary.

“I don’t think he’s changed his philosophy,” Lewis said. “He gets the most out of guys. He’s been awesome for our group.

“There’s been little changes to the system and stuff like that over the year, but he’s the same guy, same coach.”

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Sutter’s return to Calgary last year was the Flames’ eighth coaching change in a 15-year span, and the fourth hire by current general manager Brad Treliving.

He’s the third Sutter brother to coach the Flames. Darryl followed brother Brian (1997-2000) and Darryl hired Brent (2009-12).

Darryl’s career post-season record in the NHL is 89-81.

“I’ve coached a lot of playoff games and a lot of series,” he said. “That should help the players a little bit.”

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