The new coach with the familiar last name intends to have his new team back playing a familiar style of hockey.
Brent Sutter was introduced as head coach of the Calgary Flames at a news conference Tuesday, and the new coach wants to get the Flames back to playing their old tricks.
“Our job (as coaches) is to give the players an environment that they have the opportunity to succeed in. Obviously the standards in this organization are high, and to be quite honest I can speak on behalf of the whole coaching staff that we wouldn’t want it any other way. Those are our standards too, and that starts today, the process starts today and I’m very excited about it,” said Brent Sutter.
Dave Lowry, most recently the head coach of the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL, Ryan McGill, who has been the coach of the Flames top affiliate for the past four seasons and Jamie McLennan, the former Flames goalie who has been working in the Flames scouting and player development area, were named assistant coaches at the news conference.
Flames general manager Darryl Sutter sat next to his brother beaming, unable to hide his pleasure and optimism about the team going forward.
“To me it’s a big day, to be able to get who I think is the best free-agent coach out there. And to add the group and see how they’re going to work together is an awesome thing,” said Darryl Sutter, who made it clear quickly the exact dynamic of the relationship between the two brothers.
“I’m the general manager, Brent is the head coach, and this is our coaching staff. They’re the very best people available and it really doesn’t matter what their last name is.”
The new head coach was on the exact same page as his boss, and knows what to expect from him based on their previous working relationship.
“Darryl is the general manager of the hockey team and I’m the head coach of the hockey team, and that’s the way it is. I’ve played for Darryl when Darryl was the coach and I was the player, that was our relationship then and it’s no different now with him being the GM and me being the head coach,” said Brent Sutter, who immediately set the agenda for his new team.
“A big part of the game to have success is, No. 1, you have got to be accountable to yourself of course, and you want to be accountable to the guy sitting next to you or across from you in the dressing room.”
Having assembled the team as general manager since 2002, Darryl Sutter knows it takes a special coach to guide this group of players.
“It’s a tough group to coach because you have a lot of top players, and when you have a lot of top players on one team you need that strong leadership from your coaching staff,” said Sutter, the general manager.
Brent Sutter, the coach, intends to assert his leadership from the get-go, and let it snowball from there.
“You have to have a strong foundation and you have to have an identity, and that’s what we have to accomplish as a staff. It starts with your leadership group, and that starts with your (coaching) staff. I don’t believe you and a foundation on the ice unless it begins off the ice.”
The other key to success, according to everyone at the table, is a philosophy and playing style rooted in strong defensive play.
“Defensive hockey for a coach is the easiest part to teach, it’s about everybody being on the same page. Defensive hockey isn’t just about how you play in your own zone, defensive hockey is about how you play in the neutral zone, defensive hockey is how you play in the offensive zone, defensive hockey is a about puck possession time. That starts in practice and you need everyone committed to doing it,” said Brent Sutter.
“A good defensive team doesn’t mean you can’t be a good team offensively either… Players can still flourish offensively but there is high responsibility defensively when you don’t have the puck in how you do things. That’s their job to make sure it’s implemented.”
This philosophy works for Flames centre Craig Conroy, who attended the conference with his daughter Sydney.
“It’s great, you know exactly what to expect next year. We’re going to have some great practices, we’re going to play defensive but it’s not going to be limited. We’re not only going to play defence, we’re also going to be able to go out there and score goals, be creative,” said Conroy.
“That’s what you need to do these days, I don’t think you can limit your offense or play all defence. It sounds like we’re going to have a system in place and everyone is going to follow that system, and that’s probably the best thing (for us).”
Having spoken to players with time under Brent Sutter’s tutelage, Conroy is confident the new man behind the bench will provide the team with a swift kick in the rear when necessary.
“Talking with a guy like Dion (Phaneuf) that’s already had him, he holds you accountable, and that’s good, we have no problem with that. If you deserve to be benched you deserve to be benched. No one likes it, but it’s all about winning in the end,” said Conroy.
“I find as I get older and older, you only have so many years left, and I would like to win one Stanley Cup and do it here… When your coach thinks we can do it, we can all do it together and this is the way it’s got to be done, that’s what it’s all about, and I think everyone on this team wants to be a part of that.”
Brent Sutter is the 14th head coach in the history of the Calgary Flames. He coached the New Jersey Devils to a 97-56-11 record over the last two seasons, claiming the Eastern Conference title last season. He is owner of the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League, whom he coached for eight years, guiding the team to a Memorial Cup in 2001.
Sutter also led Canada’s World Junior Championship teams, to consecutive Gold Medals in 2005 and 2006, with both teams remaining undefeated throughout their tournaments. He is the only Canadian coach to have ever accomplished such a feat.
As a player, Sutter went to the Stanley Cup finals four times, winning twice. He has achieved success at every level of hockey, and Flames players, fans management, and staff are looking forward to this trend continuing as he leads the team to the Stanley Cup.
Sutter left the Devils on June 8, resigning as coach to be closer to his family and the family ranch near Red Deer. The Devils gave the Flames permission to speak with Brent Sutter about the head coaching job on June 12.
Sutter had nothing but praise for Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello. "He was like a father to me. I learned a lot from him over the last two years," he said.
While he left the Devils for personal reasons, Sutter emphasized that he is committed to the Flames.
"My first commitment will be here," said the new coach. "You can't be involved in this business without making the full commitment. There was a process I went through over the last two weeks with the Flames and with everybody from home. I am able to spend time with the people I need to. This is a good fit."
Sutter, who spent eight months a year in New Jersey while his family was in Alberta, said he saw his daughter, now entering Grade 12, about 20 times in the two years he was in New Jersey.
"That to me doesn't cut it," he said. "I have to be a better dad than that."
While Sutter will find a place to live in Calgary, the commute to the farm near Red Deer is about 90 minutes.
"That's door to door. In New Jersey, if you got caught in traffic, it was an hour and half," he smiled.