SUN Hockey Pool

Sutter going back to basics

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:07 AM ET

The drills were the kind you see in junior practices.

In five-man units, the players skated to the proper position depending on the puck’s location in the defensive zone, as directed by Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter.

Sutter had no qualms reminding players when they were out of position, needed to repeat the drill or had to be gathered for a pep talk.

Sutter even demonstrated how they should carry their stick when on the forecheck.

It was day one of the club’s rookie camp, and Sutter was taking a big-time, hands-on approach.

“We want to form our identity here, ASAP. It’s important to be working on it the first day,” Sutter said. “It’s repetition, continuing to do it over and over again, until we have it nailed.”

Just one day into the new season, and it’s obvious times have changed for the Flames.

Sutter’s predecessor may have been Iron Mike Keenan, but rest assured Sutter’s approach will have a harder edge, and will be an eye-opener to those players who had a easy go under the old boss.

He is more no-nonsense and direct, and rest assured Sutter will be working non-stop to implement the system he expects to see on the ice.

“I want a team that will be a very structured team,” Sutter explained. “It doesn’t matter whether you’re up a goal or down a goal, there’s structure to your game. Everyone’s accountable to do it.

“I want discipline in how we play and discipline in not putting your team at a disadvantage because you’re not playing smart on the ice or taking bad penalties.

“I want a team that obviously plays well defensively. I still believe if you’re a good defensive team, you’re a good offensive team. When I say that, defensively isn’t just about how you play in your own zone, it’s what you do with the puck when you have it, working hard as a group to get it back as soon as you can, keeping your scoring chances down.

“There’s a lot of things involved, but it’s work and work in practices. It’s a day at work and you’ve got to come here prepared to do it.”

The best part of Sutter’s approach is it won’t end ont he weekend when the main camp begins.

When asked whether he’ll have the same approach with the veterans, Sutter immediately stated: “Absolutely. The National Hockey League is a league of ... copycats. Everyone plays a lot of the same way, it’s about the ones that do it better and have it nailed the right way over and over again.

“That doesn’t happen just because you do it in games. It starts in practices and it’s your habits in practice and how you practice. I’m a big believer you’ve got to practice the way you play.”

Flames fans should be rejoicing.

A big reason the team hasn’t advanced beyond the first round of the playoffs since that miracle 2004 run has been the sub-standard defensive performance.

A squad that was best in team goals-against average the first season after the lockout plummeted all the way to 23rd last season.

Sutter won’t accept deviations from the game plan.

“There should be no grey area with it. We want to have good habits from our first day, and that, to me, is part of forming your identity as a team,” he said. “We want to get back — the organization wants to get back — to being a team that plays well in any circumstances, at home, on the road. You’re gonna have some tough nights, but it can’t be because you’re structure failed you or because you’re identity failed you.

“It’s got to be a mind set every day this is the way we practice and this is the way we do things. It starts in the room and carries out on the ice.”


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