Sutter's return to Calgary involves going vs. brother
Friday, 01.13.2012 / 6:54 PM / NHL Insider
By Curtis Zupke - NHL.com Correspondent
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- There is at least one theme that comes to mind when listening to Darryl Sutter over a period of time.
Sutter is always looking forward. It's always about the next game, the next shift, the next faceoff. At least publicly, he is not much for reminiscing. But Sutter can reveal flashes to the past, and when he looks back on his tenure in Calgary, one memory stands out.
"The fans -- always the fans," Sutter said. "When we first went there, it was an 11-or-12,000 fan deal and … then playing in front of 19,000 or whatever they announce every night. Canadian fans -- they're knowledgeable fans and they get behind their team."
Sutter knows better than anyone. Besides being part of a family whose name is revered in Alberta, Sutter guided the Flames to a turnaround that culminated with an unlikely run to the 2004 Stanley Cup Final. He said he will never forget the atmosphere in the city during that time, and it still sticks with him how close they got to the ultimate prize.
"Obviously it's a small population and when it's their sport, it's a big deal," Sutter said. "It's about the aura in the building … we lost 2-1 in Game 7. That's what I remember more than anything."
Sutter will have to separate himself from those memories when he returns to Calgary for the first time on Saturday as coach of the Los Angeles Kings. Not only will he return home, he will coach against younger brother Brent. That would seem to intensify the attention -- but Sutter predictably said it's just another game.
What kind of reaction does he expect from the crowd?
"Same as you get anywhere on the road," he said. "We're going to show up, play hard, and that's it."
Sutter, famously from Viking, Alta., had an eventful stint as coach and general manager of the Flames from 2002 until he resigned in December 2010.
The fond memories mostly came early in his tenure, as Sutter took a franchise that had missed the playoffs for seven straight years to the Final in his first season as coach and GM. He stepped down from coaching following the 2005-06 season to concentrate on managing the club, and the Flames subsequently were eliminated in the first round for three straight years.
As GM, Sutter was responsible for acquiring Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff for a second-round pick in 2003 and also for drafting Dion Phaneuf.
Of course, Sutter was also criticized for acquiring Olli Jokinen twice, the latter during 2010 free agency after Jokinen didn't click with Jarome Iginla the first time around.
Flames president and chief executive officer Ken King reportedly asked Sutter to step down as GM last season when the Flames were sitting in last place.
Saturday won't be the first time Sutter has coached against a brother. He coached against Brian when Darryl was in Chicago and Brian was in St. Louis. Darryl said he will see Brent the night before the game. The two don't talk hockey, but Darryl has acknowledged that he follows Calgary's progress.
"It's pretty tough," he said. "We were in different conferences. When Brent coached (New) Jersey, it was easier because it's two different leagues. It's pretty tough. We're that close together that I don't think there's any inside trading going on."
Sutter will have his immediate family in attendance Saturday. He said it won't be distracting if there are numerous people that want to say hi.
"I'm sure it will be emotional for him. He's an emotional guy, so I'm sure he's going to impart that on to us. But (games in Calgary are) always a big deal no matter what the stakes are and what the situation is going on." -- Matt Greene on Darryl Sutter's return to Calgary
"I can separate all that out pretty good," he said. "All the friends and family that I have know that it's game day. It doesn't have anything to do with family."
The Kings have received double-digit media requests to talk to Sutter, who doesn't appear to be going out of his way to make himself available. The team was scheduled to practice at home on Friday before leaving for Calgary, which would conveniently allow Sutter not to be available to the media in Calgary until Saturday's morning skate.
Sutter, who went 6-1-3 through his first 10 games with the Kings, is so focused on other things that one of his main concerns about the trip is following up Saturday's game with an early game Sunday in Edmonton.
Sutter has pointed out that he has already had "homecomings" in Chicago and San Jose this season. While he isn't letting on that Saturday is different, at least one player acknowledged the situation -- sort of.
"I'm sure it will be emotional for him," defenseman Matt Greene said. "He's an emotional guy, so I'm sure he's going to impart that on to us. But (games in Calgary are) always a big deal no matter what the stakes are and what the situation is going on."