There was a time the Saddledome was so quiet, folks compared it to a library.
Calgary Flames centre Craig Conroy has proof that wasn’t far off.
“I remember there was one lady, in particular, and she used to read a book,” Conroy said. “Every game, I’d see her and think, ‘Geez, she came to the game to read a book.’ ”
And then the Flames dangled a job offer in front of Darryl Sutter, hiring the fiery farmboy from Viking, Alta., as head coach midway through the 2002-03 NHL campaign and also giving him the keys to the GM’s office less than four months later.
Thanks to a Cinderella run to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, the Flames were suddenly the hottest ticket in town ... again.
“When Darryl came in, all of a sudden, the next year we turned it around, we make the playoffs and then we go on a great run,” Conroy said. “I mean, you’ve gotta give him credit. That’s what he did. The building is full. In the city, all the kids know the Flames again. That was a big thing.
“You talked to some parents, and they had great runs when they were younger kids, but their younger kids really didn’t see the Flames as anything. They all picked other teams. But after that run, all those kids were (Flames fans). I give Darryl credit for all of that.”
Sutter resigned from his post Tuesday, exactly eight years to the day after he arrived at the Saddle-dome. Jay Feaster will make all player personnel decisions for the remainder of the season, while Sutter has apparently offered to serve as a consultant of sorts.
During Tuesday’s news conference, Flames president Ken King — the guy who asked him to quit — appealed to reporters to remember Sutter’s role in the renaissance of a once-floundering franchise.
“One of the most important things that’s happened to our organization was eight years ago, when I sat in a Fairmont hotel in San Jose and asked Darryl Sutter if he would come to a team that was in a difficult situation that hadn’t made the playoffs for several years and needed a very special touch that I thought he was one of the very few select people could bring,” King said. “He thought about it, and he agreed to do that, and I don’t think anyone, anywhere could argue that he didn’t help in the most significant rebirth of an NHL franchise or a sports franchise anywhere.”
When Sutter arrived at the Dome, the Flames hadn’t punched a playoff ticket for six straight springs. The squad snapped that string in his first full season as head coach and GM, making five straight trips to the Stanley Cup tournament before finishing tied for ninth in the Western Conference last season.
Although the now-unemployed architect will shoulder a lot of blame — and rightfully so — if the Flames miss the post-season again this campaign, Sutter also deserves credit for making them a contender for a few years.
“I think he came in here and really helped this team turn a corner, where every year we were a team that made the playoffs,” said Flames defenceman Robyn Regehr.
“I think that speaks for itself.”