Not the average coach

TERRY JONES -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

When Lou Lamoriello went and hired a junior hockey coach, surely some old pro in the New Jersey Devils dressing room had to figure he finally flipped his lid.

Or flipped it again, if you choose to count firing his coach and replacing him with himself just prior to the playoffs last spring.

Okay, Brent Sutter wasn't your average junior coach, being owner, GM of the Red Deer Rebels as well and winning two world junior titles without losing a game, not to mention the Canada-Russia series following being hired by New Jersey.

But when the Devils coughed and sputtered getting out of the gate this year, there had to be a few at least looking at their new coach to see how he was going to handle it.

Well enough, it turns out.

FUEL STOP

Take away that 5-0 loss in Vancouver the other night when the Devils plane couldn't leave as scheduled and had to make a fuel stop on the longest flight Martin Brodeur had to take since I flew home from Poland with him at the end of the World Stars Tour during the lockout, and you'd have to say very well, indeed.

The Devils are 18-13-3 leading their division and second in the Eastern Conference.

"It was a learning curve for everybody," said Brodeur of the 6-10-2 start under this Sutter brother.

"We were adjusting to the way we want to play and the way he wants us to play.

"With a new coach, you want to get off to a good start, but it was a tough start. We found out what kind of character he had and how much he hates losing."

Sutter said it's been good.

"We went through some trying times early. But we seem to have found our way. The players know where I'm coming from and I know them better, too.

"There were a lot of different factors involved," he said of having a new coach, having to play their first nine games on the road and then coming home to play in a new building and Brodeur battling a bit to find his form.

"We had 16 new faces with players, coaches and trainers," he said.

He also changing the way the Devils play in terms of putting in an aggressive forechecking system.

Sutter made a joke about that.

"It allows us to create more offence, although with us being shutout seven times, you'd never know that."

Yesterday Sutter took his team through a practice which, following that 5-0 loss, could have been a bag skate in front of a sellout crowd in Red Deer.

"I'm not that cruel," he said.

With New Jersey playing Edmonton and Calgary as the two last games before Christmas at least it leaves Sutter at home in Red Deer for the holidays.

But he won't be home with his son Brandon who is a member of Team Canada at the World Junior in the Czech Republic.

He said it was time to cut the cord with his kid as his coach in junior, too.

"I coached him two years. He was a great player and a great kid to coach. But it was time he had a different coach other than his dad. Obviously I miss him."

TERRIFIC ASSISTANT

He has a terrific assistant coaching staff including former head coach Larry Robinson.

And not a bad player leading the Devils in scoring with 15 goals, 20 assists and 35 points.

That's one Zach Parise. The Devils picked him 17th in the draft after moving up by trading the Oilers the 22nd pick and a second round selection for their 17th pick.

The Oilers ended up with Marc Pouliot and J.F. Jacques, two players who are with the Springfield Falcons.

(Ryan Getzlaff was drafted 19th.)

"As a player, he's very committed to being the best he can be<" Sutter said of Parise.

"He works for everything. There is no day, at practice or in a game, that he doesn't go full out.

"He'll never be satisfied. He's a treat to coach."

He also loves Oilers' Sam Gagner who he coached in the Canada-Russia series.

"He just has such a great understanding of the game," he said.


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