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Sutter Takes on His First Practice

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings

Players were on time and well-scrubbed. Coincidentally or not, a few of them had freshly cropped hair.

Shortly after 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, a new era officially began for the Kings when coach Darryl Sutter stepped on the ice for his first practice. Sutter, officially hired on Tuesday to replace Terry Murray, put the Kings through a fast-paced, 45-minute practice, then held an introductory press conference.

Sutter's immediate challenge is to try to turn around a Kings team that entered this season with high expectations but has fallen out of playoff position in the Western Conference and struggled offensively.

For at least one day, there was renewed energy and optimism in the Kings' locker room. Murray's departure was not celebrated by players, as he was respected and personally well-liked, but players seem to have accepted that a new coaching voice isn't a bad thing to have right now.

"There's no looking back," Kings alternate captain Matt Greene said. "You can't have a room divided, with guys who supported Terry and guys who are sour that Darryl is here. You have to get behind Darryl now because he's the guy who is leading us, he's the guy who is here. If you're not, then it's not just going to be Terry who is gone, it's going to be other guys going out the door as well. Nobody wants that.

"Everybody wants to see if we can win with this group. Guys want to win with this group. And I want to stay here. I think everybody does. So we've got to get behind Darryl right away, and if that's what you guys are calling it, a new voice that‚s going to give us a push, then yeah, I definitely hope that's what it's going to take."

Players were informed of Sutter's hiring after they returned home from Toronto early Tuesday morning, and Sutter arrived in Los Angeles on Tuesday night from his home in Alberta, personally picked up at the airport by general manager Dean Lombardi.

Before practice Wednesday, Sutter held a lengthy team meeting.

"It was a tough week, and we're all happy, I think, just to get going again," forward Brad Richardson said. "Everyone was kind of anxious to get here this morning. Everyone was here a lot earlier than usual, to kind of get here and meet Darryl and see what was going on."

Asked about Sutter's general message during the meeting, captain Dustin Brown said, "That it's going to take a lot of work, and it's going to take everyone."

After practice, Sutter, Lombardi and the staff went next door to a hotel ballroom for a press conference, Sutter still dressed in his warmup suit from practice. Lombardi presented Sutter with a Kings jersey and gave a passionate introduction of his new coach. Lombardi and Sutter have a tight friendship, one that began when Lombardi hired Sutter as his coach while serving as GM of San Jose in 1997.

"I think it's safe to say, as far as Darryl, that we're very similar but yet different," Lombardi said. "We're both the same age and we grew up in different environments, one the son of a factory rat, the other the son of a farmer. The values are the same. If you work hard, you will be rewarded. You have an identity. You stand for something, and as long as you work hard and you're a good teammate, we're going to have all the time in the world for you."

Sutter, known for his intensity and gruff personality, spoke openly about his style and his expectations for his new team. The Kings start the Sutter era with a home game against Anaheim on Thursday night at 7 p.m.

"I'm excited about it, looking forward to it," Sutter said. "I think we have, it goes without being said, five or six of the best young players in the game, and a good, solid core of veterans, a lot of guys who have won championships, and that's important. A lot of guys I can identify with, I think. I know it's been a tough couple weeks for them, but at the same time I know we've got lots of ground to cover and I know they're capable of doing that.

"I think really honest, firm, try to get the most out of them. You hear about overachievers and underachievers. Really, overachieving is getting the most out of yourself, and I think that's what I can help a lot of guys with. There are a lot of guys who have a lot of growth going forward, and for the rest of their careers. And I think there's a veteran group that we have to push to help our young players get better."

There was big news Wednesday that didn't involve coaching. Mike Richards, out of the lineup and on injured reserve since Dec. 1, skated and participated in all drills. Barring any last-minute setbacks, Richards is expected to return to the lineup for tomorrow night's game.

"We'll see how today goes, and hopefully be back tomorrow," Richards said after Wednesday's practice. "I feel good. It's nice to get out there with everyone. It's a full practice, and not in between games here. There was a good pace out there today, and I'm excited for tomorrow. ... I'm cleared to play, so it just depends on my progress today. If I feel good today, I'll play tomorrow."

In an immediate sense, Richards said he was encouraged by Wednesday's practice, both on an individual level and in the intensity and urgency that Sutter brought to the practice.

"It was good. It was up-tempo. We worked on some things," Richards said. "For me personally, it was just getting out there and being in a full practice again, working hard and feeling the puck with everybody and getting caught up with the speed. I thought it was a good practice for me and a good practice for the team."

The early "winner" of the Sutter hiring would appear to be Brad Richardson, who had become a part-time player under Murray. When the Kings took the ice for Wednesday's practice, though, Richardson was the first-line left winger, on a line with center Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.

On the second and third lines, Jarret Stoll centered Dustin Penner and Justin Williams, while Richards centered Simon Gagne and Trevor Lewis. The Kings had five "fifth-line players" -- Kevin Westgarth, Andrei Loktionov, Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser and Trent Hunter, and in order to accommodate Richards‚ return tomorrow, the Kings will have to remove a player from the active roster.

That's all good news for Richardson, who had spent almost all of this season in third- or fourth-line roles, when he wasn't made a healthy scratch, that is.

"I know (Sutter) likes guys who are honest, hard-working guys and guys who are going to work hard every night for him," Richardson said. "We had a meeting before practice and that was kind of the thing. It's got to be more hard work, quicker and driving to the net, and those are all things that I think I can bring to the team. Obviously it's quickness, getting on pucks and stirring things up. I'm looking forward to getting in there and playing for him."

On defense, the pairings were Rob Scuderi with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Slava Voynov, Jack Johnson with Matt Greene, and Davis Drewiske with Alec Martinez.

Scuderi became a father for the third time Tuesday, when his wife, Courtney, delivered a son named Brett William Scuderi. The new arrival weighed in at 8 pounds, 7 ounces.

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