Darryl Sutter is a two-time Stanley Cup-winning head coach who I think has punched his ticket for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame when he finally decides to call it quits. So, it would probably be a safe bet to suggest hoisting that venerable silver cup over his head would easily be the biggest moment of his four-decade career in professional hockey. But, that’s not the impression I got when the current Calgary Flames bench boss was asked that very question in a private online Q & A event for Aeroplan members last week.
Our friends at @Aeroplan are giving you the chance to go from your living room, to inside the locker room, for an exclusive coach’s chat! Learn lessons from the game, stories from the road and more with Darryl Sutter during this online event!— Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) April 2, 2021
Register: https://t.co/gY308u9TaQ pic.twitter.com/uLunR5EB4Z
Sportsnet’s Christine Simpson hosted the virtual one-on-one session and she had a long list of questions for Sutter – all submitted by the roughly 300 fans that registered for the online event. About ten minutes into the interview, Simpson asked the Flames’ head coach what his most memorable moment in hockey was, and he started off by saying: “you’ve got to say winning Stanley Cups, but I also vividly remember in my mind losing game seven of the Stanley Cup here with the Flames against Tampa in ’04.”
“I remember that game, I can see it in my mind, I can play back the whole game myself. I can tell you who was on the ice at whatever shift it was. We lost 2-1 and still in my mind I can remember the scoring chances we missed that could have made it 2-2. And then in your mind you think, well I know who’s going to score in overtime because he’s our captain – he’s the Rocket Richard winner, and so I have all of that in my mind as memories.”Darryl Sutter on losing game seven of the 2004 Stanley Cup finals
When asked about his most memorable moment, I found it quite telling how Sutter completely glossed over winning two Stanley Cups in three years with the Los Angeles Kings in about three seconds and went straight to the Flames’ Cinderella run to the finals. The Calgary bench boss would touch on his first go-around with the club multiple times during the entertaining 45-minute interview, expanding on how that improbable playoff run completely captured the imagination of the entire country when his team became the last Canadian franchise standing.
Sutter would go on to say that when all of Canada jumped on the Flames bandwagon, it made the entire postseason experience that much more special. And, when he mentioned that he had “unfinished business” after being rehired as head coach, he explained how the “the rural part of it, the Canadian part of it, that grassroots part of it” still fuelled a fire inside of him to finish the job he started over 18 years ago. Sutter added that losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final might not have meant so much if it wasn’t with a Canadian team. I get the impression that this is a guy who really wants the see Lord Stanley’s cup return to its birthplace.
When Sutter was asked about his thoughts on playing in the newly minted Scotia North Division he didn’t mince words, describing it as an “awesome division”, adding that it was absolutely loaded with star power.
“I know that the Flames haven’t held up their end of the bargain in terms of their performance but when we play these teams it blows me away how much some of these young players have stepped up and become star players. You look at the kids in Toronto and the kids in Winnipeg and the kids in Edmonton… just look at the scoring race in the league and put the Canadian teams in there and look what they’ve done, it’s pretty outstanding. It actually gives me shivers to talk about it because those guys are stars and you can tell they’re really good people and it’s quite amazing.” Darryl Sutter on playing in the Scotia North Division.
Sutter told the hundreds of viewers watching the online interview that he thinks the eventual cup champion of the 2020-21 season will come from the Great White North, stating “this Canadian division is a tough division. I’ve said this before I came to coach the Flames… I know where my winner is coming from. I’m not saying who it is, but I’ve picked my winner.” I think it’s safe to say it won’t be Calgary, so I’m guessing he was talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs? The head coach also seemed quite pleased that an NHL team from north of the border was guaranteed a spot in the final four.
I always feel a little sorry for the reporters who ask Sutter questions in the Flames’ post-game pressers. The gruff rancher from Viking, Alberta has a no-nonsense style when dealing with the media that can feel pretty intimidating. He’s made headlines this season for some of his blunt evaluations of his players – most notably when he called them out for being “dopey” and then when he made it clear he wasn’t very pleased with the effort level of Johnny Gaudreau on the eve of his 500th NHL game.
So, it was a huge relief to see the softer side (if you can call it that) of Sutter during this rather pleasant online chat. Simpson kept the banter pretty light and there were several questions from viewers that actually made the 62-year-old crack a smile and even let out a small chuckle. Those topics included the (very) early mornings working on the farm, pre-game superstitions, playing pro hockey in Japan, facing off against his brothers and identifying who the funniest Calgary Flame is. The answer to that last question was just traded away to the Leafs, so unfortunately the locker room may have just lost its best class clown.
I was actually surprised how little was said about the current Flames roster during the 45-minute interview. I’ve already referenced how Sutter stated the Flames “haven’t held up their end of the bargain” in terms of their on-ice performance this season, and when he was asked how the 2021 team stacked up against his 2004 squad, the comparison between the two wasn’t overly complimentary to the current version of the boys in red.
“I think the 2004 team was an experienced team. The Calgary Flames 2021 team would definitely have more skill, God-given skill. I think that the 2004 team was about a blue collar, “guts of the game” group. If you matched them up against any of the teams we played, they really didn’t match up in the straight up, talent-wise part but they matched up in spades in terms of heart and desire and work and effort and all of that. And you put all of that along with guys like (Miikka) Kiprusoff and (Jarome) Iginla and that takes you a long way.” Darryl Sutter on comparing the 2021 Flames to the 2004 Flames
That’s not exactly a glowing endorsement of the effort level of his current team, but Sutter did manage to dish out at least one compliment when he was asked what the Flames’ greatest strength was. The bench boss was quick to say that the team is fortunate to have Mark Giordano as captain, adding that the former Norris Trophy winner is a great role model for the organization, both on and off the ice. He also mentioned that this current squad has five or six young skaters (without naming them) who will be outstanding players, but we just have to be patient with them.
The @NHLFlames are 3-0-0 since Darryl Sutter stepped back behind the bench on March 11. Will they extend their winning streak to a season-high four games when the ‘Battle of Alberta’ airs nationally in the U.S. & Canada? #NHLStats— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) March 17, 2021
: EDM vs. CGY at 10 p.m. ET on SN, TVAS, NBCSN pic.twitter.com/6E9xolNnNv
At the time of this Q & A session, the Flames were on a terrible losing streak, having lost four in a row and eight of their last nine games. That might explain Sutter’s reluctance to heap copious amounts of praise on a team that was clearly struggling and completely out of the playoff race. Since then, Calgary has managed to string together three wins in a row and has somehow found a faint glimmer of hope. With 13 games left in the campaign, reaching the postseason is still very unlikely but not impossible.
I’m already on the record stating the team should go into full tank mode, but these last three contests have certainly piqued my interest and opened my eyes. The Flames are seeing a timely resurgence in the form of Jacob Markstrom and are finally playing that “Sutter-style” of hockey that everyone keeps talking about. Who knows? If Calgary can model themselves after Sutter’s Cinderella 2004 squad and replicate the “heart and desire and work and effort” of that group – maybe lightning can indeed strike twice. Maybe, just maybe… the Flames’ head coach will finally complete his unfinished business and deliver the Stanley Cup back to Canada.