SUN Hockey Pool

Sutter aims to psych up sagging Flames

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:44 PM ET

CALGARY — Brent Sutter is as much a psychologist as hockey coach these days.

The Flames head coach is in charge of a floundering and fragile team which these days can’t score and can’t win, and in dire need of something positive to happen while its perch among the Western Conference’s elite eight.

As much as Sutter has to stay on top of the Xs and Os, his message Friday in anticipation of facing the Anaheim Ducks Saturday night was to keep spirits brights.

“The guys are sticking together and staying together because you’ve got to believe it’s going to start happening for you, as long as your work ethic is where it needs to be and your commitment is where it needs to be. In the last five games, that’s been there,” Sutter said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing, that’s all you can do. I’m not going to deny it, sure frustration sets in at times, but we have to weather through that and help each other through it.”

A sleep removed from a game in which the Flames arguably deserved to beat the Dallas Stars but fell 3-1, Sutter and his coaching staff added some levity in practice.

They started off with a drill in which players shot at an empty net from the blueline.

Goals were celebrated. Pushups were the punishment for missing, along with good-natured ribbing from teammates.

The jocularity was appreciated as much as it was needed around what’s become a dreary Saddledome.

“We’re pressing for goals and know we have to score more than a goal per game to win. It’s a fun drill,” centre Matt Stajan said. “It’s fun for everybody. If you miss, you’re gonna hear it from your teammates. If you score, you get to do a little bit of a celebration. It was a fun drill to start practice and lighten the mood.

“I don’t know what’s worse, doing the pushups or hearing it from your teammates.”

Times may be bleak for the Flames with just four wins in 19 games (4-11-4), but at least they’re sitting in eighth place, which is where seven other teams would prefer to be instead of their current fate — including tonight’s opponents from Anaheim who are two points back in the standings.

That fact is one of the reminders which was echoed through the dressing room.

As did the reiteration a winning streak can be just around the corner.

“We’ve got to believe that and make it happen,” Stajan said. “We’re playing hard, trying our best, playing the system well and not giving up much. At the end of the day, we do have to score goals, but we just need something good to happen, get a bounce here and it’ll be a snowball effect and things will start going in.

“That’s how it usually works.”

Which is why players were doing their best to keep spirits up, their own and those around them.

“It’s tough to stay confident and to stay upbeat when things aren’t going your way and you’re not winning games, but that’s the only way we can approach it,” defenceman Mark Giordano said. “We have to stay with it. It’s not a bad thing to sometimes see ourselves doing the right things and see ourselves putting goals in on the video or something like that.”

That said, they all know the onus falls on them to turn those fortunes.

“We can’t be saying it all the time, ‘we need a bounce,’ because it gets old,” Giordano admitted. “We have to create our own luck, and it’s all of us. The defence, we have to get pucks through traffic and on net, the forwards have to bang home rebounds. It’s a full-team thing.

Thus, the message of positive thinking from Dr. Sutter, albeit with a reminder to stay the course.

“We can’t back off on anything, and to do that, we’ve got to keep a good mindset and attitude and continue to forge ahead,” the coach said. “We know our situation and we need to make sure we’re in the right frame of mind.

“We can’t lose our focus and can’t feel sorry for ourselves. We have to stay with it and that’s important. It’s important for everyone to keep good attitudes around here. As tough as it is, you have to get through it.

“As individuals, you get to find out an awful lot about yourself and everyone else in the room through the times it’s not going as well as you’d like it to.”

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca


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