Sutter focused on Flames

Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter gives his opinion to the officials over a third-period penalty...

Calgary Flames coach Brent Sutter gives his opinion to the officials over a third-period penalty shot call during a game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on March 4. It was the second penalty shot against the Flames in the game, but both were stopped by goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. (Lyle Aspinall, Calgary Sun)

TERRY JONES, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:18 PM ET

EDMONTON - Youd figure Brent Sutter would have driven direct to Red Deer from Leduc after he ran practice with the Calgary Flames Friday.

He is, after all, the owner of the Red Deer Rebels who were playing the Edmonton Oil Kings in Game 1 of the Western Hockey League playoff series.

But, no, he never considered it.

Sutter will be behind the bench here Saturday night against the Edmonton Oilers for what he hopes will be the first of six consecutive wins for the Flames to keep their Stanley Cup playoff hopes alive.

I made a decision when I became a coach in the NHL to be fully committed to the NHL team, he said. I didnt make the move to the NHL until I had confidence in the people I had in place in Red Deer. I own the team. Im the president. But I have great people in place to run it.

This is Sutters fourth year as an NHL coach and hes yet to see the team he owns, the team he coached to the Memorial Cup title in 2001, play a single playoff game in his time assembling a 174-116-21 NHL record.

When I was coaching the New Jersey Devils, we missed the playoffs in Red Deer. Last year the Rebels played against Saskatoon in the first round and we were swept in four games. I never got a chance to see them play.

Sutter is confident enough in his people in Red Deer which include coach and GM Jesse Wallin on the hockey side and Jerry Van Someren on the business side. But hes also so confident in the cycle the Rebels are on right now that hes bidding for the 2013 Memorial Cup for Red Deer.

Part of the bid process, beyond convincing the decision-makers that youd have great crowds and organize a great event is that youd have a competitive team. Host teams get a spot in the four-team Memorial Cup tournament.

Which makes this current series with the Oil Kings and this current playoff year rather crucial for junior hockey franchise owner Sutter, being the hosting decision will be made later this spring.

Were going to have a lot of players back, Sutter said of the Rebels of two years from now.

We have a lot of 17- and 18-year-olds. You assume you are going to have three of the 18-year-olds back as 20-year-olds. The 17-year-olds will be 19. And were very happy with our 16- and 15-year-olds.

Id never have considered bidding for it if I didnt think we had a great chance to have a great team two years from now, he said of the Rebels who were 48-16-8 in finishing second in the WHL Eastern Conference, with possible No.1 pick Ryan Nugent-Hopkins this year.

But all of that isnt exactly occupying the active area behind his forehead at this very moment.

Sutter coached his butt off since brother Darryl was fired as general manager to take the team from down near where the Oilers were located in the standings to being in a playoff position. And now it looks like its going to take 97 points to make the playoffs in the NHLs Wild West. For the Flames, that means run the table or run out of games.

We didnt have a good October, November or early December, but I felt we were turning things around in early December. I liked the way we were competing, he said.

On Dec. 23 I liked the way we came back in Dallas, scored late and won in overtime. From that point on we were a very confident group.

The team is 13 games over .500 from that turning point and Sutter says he likes his team more right now than ever before.

We know what were about as a team and what we have to do to be successful.

Before, we were all over the map. We were fighting to find our identity and how we need to play. We were fighting to find our identity all last year and for the first two months this year.

It takes time when you bring new coaches in and then make the number of changes we made at the trade deadline last year.

Now we know. Now we have a commitment with work ethic and team play. Now the players inside the room are accountable to each other.

I dont want to see these players fail. Theyve worked so hard, made so many adjustments and accomplished so much. We know going forward who we are now and how were going to get there.

You get the idea. Brent Sutter is in no hurry to get back to his junior hockey team in Red Deer.

Twitter.com/sunterryjones

terry.jones@sunmedia.ca


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