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Sutter enjoyed time with Devils, but he's happier now

by Dan Rosen
NEWARK, N.J. -- It wasn't until Tuesday's bus ride across the river from Manhattan into Newark that Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter started to reflect on his two seasons as coach of the New Jersey Devils.

"I guess things become familiar with you when you're coming in from the city to here," Sutter said Monday morning, hours before he was going to stand on the visitor's bench for the first time at Prudential Center (7:30 p.m., TSN). "When you're in the coaching world, it's your own world a lot. You're so concerned about the group that you have and your mindset, that's where it is all the time. But to come in the building and see a lot of familiar faces, that's exciting."

Sutter broke into the NHL coaching business as the Devils' coach in 2007, the same year the franchise opened its new building. He won 97 regular-season games, including a franchise-best 51 in 2008-09, but the last game he coached here probably was his most memorable -- for all of the wrong reasons.

It was Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against Carolina and the Devils blew a 3-2 lead in the third period by giving up goals to Jussi Jokinen and Eric Staal in the final 80 seconds. They lost, 4-3.

It's a game, Sutter says, "you never forget. It was certainly a real shock."

Not as shocking as it was when Sutter abruptly resigned less than two months later. He still had one year left on his contract, but he could no longer be 3,000 miles away from his wife, Connie; his teenage daughter, Brooke; his ranch in Sylvan Lake, Alta.; and the family business, the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League.

"At the end of the day there are things and life that is bigger than the game of hockey and that's why I chose to do what I did. Home is home for me."
-- Brent Sutter

None of it was going to move east and settle in New Jersey with him, so Sutter felt an obligation to go back.

"People that have been in my situation that are in our industry or ones back home in business where they have to travel a lot, they totally understood why I did what I did," Sutter said. "Even people in our industry were surprised that I was able to do it for two years. It's a hard thing."

While shocked, the Devils couldn't argue against Sutter's reasoning. He said he even had amicable conversations with GM Lou Lamoriello about the possibility of leaving the job long before he resigned.

"Everybody has families and he wanted to be closer to his family. That's understandable," Devils defenseman Colin White said. "He made a business choice, and it's not like he left in the middle of the year or anything like that. He's happier probably being back home, closer to his family."

The burn came two weeks after Sutter resigned, when he was hired by brother Darryl to coach the Flames.

Fans in New Jersey scoffed and even Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek didn't like it too much. But, Sutter insisted the Flames job was not on his radar when he left New Jersey. As a result of Sutter's contract situation with the Devils, Lamoriello had to give Darryl Sutter permission to even talk to his brother about the job.

"Through the process I ended up becoming the head coach of the Flames, but if that wouldn't have occurred I'd still be home right now," Sutter said. "That's the bottom line. When I decided to step away from here to move back home, I was firm on that decision."

Sutter was sure largely because it made so little sense to him to continue in New Jersey.

On average, he said he saw his daughter for 10 days during the course of each season he was with the Devils. She was in high school at the time.

Sutter said he poured just about every penny he made as an NHL player into the Rebels, and while he trusts the people that oversee things for him -- including his oldest son, Merrick, who is the team's Director of Marketing Services and Events -- "you need to be somewhat hands on."

Then, of course, there was all the alone time he had in New Jersey. It was uncomfortable for a man from such a big family.

"As a coach you're entrenched in what you do and it's a 24/7 thing, but there was no outlet here for me," Sutter said. "That's why you spend days at the rink until 6, 7 or 8 o'clock at night. And that's fine and great, but it wasn't so much myself as it was others back there, 3,000 miles away."

Sutter still doesn't spend every night at home at his ranch with Connie and Brooke. He has a condominium in downtown Calgary and that's where he spends a lot of nights during the regular season, but home is only a 75-minute drive away, so when a storm isn't in his way he can get there and back quite easily.

"At the end of the day there are things and life that is bigger than the game of hockey and that's why I chose to do what I did," Sutter said. "Home is home for me."

That's why Wednesday he'll be a visitor in a building he helped open.

"Obviously there are great memories here. I'm not going to stand here and deny that," Sutter said. "I had two years of being part of this franchise, which I'm very proud of, but you get focused in on your game and your team and you can't dwell on other stuff going around. To be honest, I never gave it a thought until we were driving here."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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