Family and hard work.
Trying to figure out Brent Sutter's recipe for success with the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League begins and ends with those two key ingredients.
The WHL championship, the Memorial Cup, the great winning percentage since he took over the then-struggling Rebels in 1999: it all flows from his belief in running his organization like a family and demanding the same hard work from his players that he's put in every day of his life since his childhood on the family farm in Viking, Alberta.
"That's the most important thing -- from the front office down through your dressing room -- that you've got to have that family attitude, that family atmosphere," Sutter told McKeensHockey.com in an in-depth and exclusive interview.
"Everyone has to be very caring about each other."
The Sutter brand of hard work is legendary in hockey circles, but Brent says the Sutter clan has never looked at it as work.
"It's just stuff that needs to get done and you do it," he said. "It's not that big of a deal -- you just get it done. When we were kids, we all had chores to do on the farm and it was our responsibility to make sure they got done and you hold yourself accountable and we held our brothers accountable to make sure it happened."
That attitude has endeared the Sutter boys to fans for the 25 straight years there was a Sutter in the NHL and it has helped to turn his Rebels into a highly-valued member of the community in central Alberta.
That support is not something the Rebels boss takes lightly either. He says his club strives to put the best possible product on the ice each night, but it goes way beyond that for him and his players. Sutter knows it's important for the players to become part of the fabric of the community.
"They're recognized here in the community and they're looked up upon by a lot of people -- it's a huge thing," he told McKeen's. "As an organization, it's our responsibility to be out in the community and support programs and work in schools and work for different charities. I think it's important. It's part of the community relationship you have."
While Sutter acknowledges that he runs a tight ship with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude in Red Deer, he also knows that's part of the philosophy that has helped turn the team into a winner. His teaching methods can be applied to both hockey and real-life situations; something that he hopes isn't lost on his players.
"I think the most important thing -- and I'm not just saying this for hockey players, but all human beings -- is that we're creatures of habit," said Sutter. "If you have good habits, good things happen; if you have bad habits, bad things happen. It goes hand-in-hand in the game of hockey. If you have good habits off the ice, you're normally going to have good habits on the ice."
With sound coaching philosophies and the Sutter approach have come a fair bit of success for the Rebels, but you'll never catch this guy resting on his laurels. Moreover, he says he could care less about the titles he has with the team (GM, coach, owner and more): for him, it's all about surrounding himself with good people and providing the necessary leadership. Winning is what you strive for, sure, but it never ends there.
"It's funny," he mused. "All I'm worried about is today and where we're at as an organization and where our team is at as a team today. If you continue to dwell on the success you've had, you're setting yourself up for failure in the future because you're not taking care of the present."
With the love for and from the community involving Sutter and the Rebels, does he think he'll ever leave to try coaching in the NHL? He reiterates that he's a guy that lives in the present and not the future, but he couldn't rule it out. One thing he knows for sure is that despite the repeated questions about the possibility of him joining Darryl in Calgary to coach for the Flames, the two brothers have not yet discussed the possibility. In fact, Brent says he will never bring it up with Darryl.
"It's up to Darryl if he ever wants to approach Brent Sutter about whether he wants him to be his head coach some day," said Sutter. "It's not for me to go to him and I'll never do it. I'll never go to Darryl and talk to him about it. If Darryl wants to talk to me then he'll come to me and talk to me about it. I've never discussed it, it's never been discussed."
One thing Sutter made very clear was that for him to leave his current situation in Red Deer, it would take an offer that would knock his socks off. And even if that offer came in, that does not necessarily mean he'd sell the Rebels.
"I've never, ever considered selling the team," he stated. "I love the Western Hockey League. I think there's great ownership in this league. There are great GM's, great coaches and obviously great players in this league and hey, there are great organizations in this league and across the CHL. Major Junior hockey is a very exciting brand of hockey. The majority of teams run their teams top-notch and I'm proud to say that and I'm proud to be part of that."
Sutter did admit that you can never say never; but reiterated that it would really have to be something special to get him to leave this situation.
For the people of Red Deer, Brent Sutter is something special himself. Many of them are likely hoping nothing ever comes along to convince him to leave.
To see the entire chat transcript of Sutter's conversation, visit McKeenshockey.com this week.
Chris can be reached via email at email@example.com.