SUN Hockey Pool

Grapes defends ex-Flames GM

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:07 AM ET

CALGARY - Darryl Sutter has been silent since cleaning out his office at the Saddledome.

But during the first intermission of Sunday’s Heritage Classic broadcast, Don Cherry had plenty to say on his behalf, blasting the media for suggesting it’s no coincidence the Calgary Flames have been racking up wins since Sutter resigned his post as general manager.

“I’ve been around hockey a long time and I have never seen a guy get roasted and crucified as much as Darryl Sutter,” Cherry said. “It is unbelievable how they can blame the first half on him the way they have. It is incredible. I have never seen anything like it.”

One of the most outspoken personalities in the hockey world, Cherry didn’t stop there. In fact, the former Boston Bruins and Colorado Rockies head coach spent almost three minutes of his Coach’s Corner segment on CBC coming to Sutter’s defence.

“If you read the newspaper, every time they say they’re doing good now, it’s well, they got rid of Sutter,” Cherry said. “He’s the guy that brought all of this team in. They lost Langkow right at the start, their No.-1 centreman. And for some reason, Kiprusoff couldn’t stop a beach ball in the first half, and Iginla was playing 15 minutes (a game) ...

“He stuck with his players, he stuck with everybody, and to have him, the way he’s got it, I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.”

The Flames announced Sutter’s resignation Dec. 28, putting Jay Feaster in charge of player personnel decisions. Feaster has yet to orchestrate any trades, although he waived centre Craig Conroy — prompting the retirement of the fan favourite, who now serves as Feaster’s special assistant — and exiled winger Ales Kotalik to the AHL.

The Flames have been one of the NHL’s hottest teams since Sutter’s resignation, piecing together a 16-4-2-3 record and climbing into the Western Conference playoff race.

While injured pivot Daymond Langkow, netminder Miikka Kiprusoff and captain Jarome Iginla were the only players that he mentioned by name, Cherry insisted the entire team should be embarrassed that their early-season struggles have been blamed on Sutter.

“It must be tough for him to be sitting watching all this excitement, all the hoopla and everything,” Cherry said. “This is his team. Jay never made any changes at all. They just had to come through. I often wonder when the players hear the TV and they read and they hear on the radio how it’s his fault, if they have a guilty conscience, because (people are saying) all the fault is his.

“I cannot believe it. If they don’t have a guilty conscience, they should.”

Sutter arrived in Calgary in 2002 to serve as head coach. He added GM duties the following season and was the toast of the town during the Flames’ unexpected run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2004.

“He’s the guy that came here when the crowds were down. He’s the guy that got the players in here,” Cherry said. “He almost won the Stanley Cup. In fact, that goal was in — he won the Stanley Cup.

“He’s the guy that turned this franchise around. It was going down the drains. And to see the way he was treated, it’s a damn shame.”


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