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Sutter believes players buy-in has sparked surge

by Dan Rosen
CHICAGO -- Brent Sutter wasn't going to change his theories, even if it cost him his job as Calgary's head coach.
"I had to stay the course or else I wouldn't be standing in front of you guys right now," Sutter said after his Flames lost to Chicago 6-4 Wednesday here at the United Center.
Instead, Sutter had to wait for the resistance he was getting from his players to subside and hold out hope that the guys in the dressing room would start to hold one another accountable.
"If it's only coming from the coach, eventually it gets shut out," Sutter said. "At some point they have to do it inside the room."
Sutter can pinpoint the date -- even the hour -- when it finally happened. It was late on Dec. 23 in Dallas, the night Alex Tanguay scored the tying goal with 1:21 remaining and then went on to score the shootout winner to lift the Flames to a 3-2 victory.
The Flames are 18-6-6 since winning that night in Dallas and they've climbed to sixth in the Western Conference.
While most hockey people point to the culture change that occurred five days after Calgary beat Dallas -- the day general manager Darryl Sutter stepped down and was replaced by Jay Feaster -- Brent Sutter believes the real change occurred that night in Dallas, when the players took over the room.
"The run has been because of everyone staying together, staying shoulder to shoulder, weathering through adversity and going through it together, believing we can do this if we do it a certain way," Sutter said.
"At the end of the day the real truth of it all, and it's like this with any team, is when individuals inside the room decide they want to take the responsibility within the room to do it the right way and hold each other accountable to do it that way (they can win)," he later added. "This group eventually did that and it's been a big difference. They're now, if someone isn't doing it right, the ones going to talk to that someone to make sure things are done right."
Sutter appears much more relaxed, too, and maybe that is directly related to his brother's departure. He was asked directly if his job has become easier since Darryl left the organization, but he understandably didn't want to answer the question because it was too personal, too close to home.
But he never denied that some truth lies in that theory -- with his brother gone he is able to do his job with a much looser attitude. He instead said his working relationship with Feaster was solid before the change upstairs, so no adjustments were necessary.
"At the end of the day to me it's about the players and the players being rewarded for their commitment to doing it the way it should be done," Sutter said. "I wasn't going to change my philosophy or theory on it."
He never felt he had to because his philosophy had worked at every level, including in junior hockey and for two NHL seasons with the New Jersey Devils. The difference in Calgary is he had to teach defensive structure and the importance of everyone defending, Sutter said. He obviously never had to do that in New Jersey.
"It's something that takes time," Sutter said. "With the guys it was trying to keep their focus and telling them to stay with it, stay with it, and it will happen. It took over a year to get them to a point where they felt if we did it a certain way and everyone plays that way that we can have success. To be honest, it was something new to them. You're trying to form new habits, do things differently and play a real different type of game. It takes a while for guys to adjust to that. Sometimes there is resistance, but you think they're going to buy in eventually and they did."
That it coincided with Feaster's energetic takeover in the GM office only helped fuel the Flames' run of fun.
"Guys are enjoying it and we want to it enjoy it," Sutter said. "I mean, why not? The game is supposed to be fun, and we want to have fun with it. We want to have fun every day we come to the rink, enjoy being around each other and enjoy being there. It's our responsibility as coaches to make sure that happens.
"Yes, after you lose games it's not always going to be fun, but it's still not life or death, either. That's always been my mindset with it, that when you walk away from a game you start getting ready for the next game. It shouldn't be that you beat yourself up so bad that it's not fun anymore. That was an attitude that had to change."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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