Sutter in familiar form

RANDY SPORTAK, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

The majority of the packed house at Rexall Place didn't feel like dancing.

Yet, Grace Sutter was more than willing to revel in the moment.

Of course, you can't blame the matriarch of hockey's famed family, seeing as she was in Edmonton Friday night watching rookie NHL head coach Brent Sutter guide the New Jersey Devils to a 3-1 victory.

"Yeah, they showed me (the video) as soon as I walked in the room after the game," Sutter said yesterday with a chuckle. "She was sitting at one end of the suite, and when we scored the empty-net goal, she jumped over a bunch of people and she high-fived the next suite beside her.

"My nephew was in front of her and he said, 'She hit me so hard in the back after we scored the empty net goal, I lost my breath.' "

Winning in the NHL, especially when you return to your roots, is worth the price. Watching your mom enjoy the moment so much -- priceless.

Then again, winning is nothing new to Sutter. He's done it his whole life.

As a player, he won a couple of Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders. With the Red Deer Rebels, he took a floundering franchise and made it an envy of the junior ranks. He also guided Team Canada to a pair of World Junior titles.

Yet, the questions remained as to how he'd do as an NHL bench boss. Over the years, plenty of successful junior coaches have arrived amidst a flurry of fanfare, only to fizzle.

Given that the Devils will head into tonight's clash with the Calgary Flames atop the Atlantic Division with a 19-13-3 mark, it looks like Sutter is doing OK.

It's even more impressive when you remember the team limped out of the gates, with only three victories in the first 10 games.

"That wasn't surprising to me," Sutter insisted after putting his charges through their paces at the Saddledome.

"We had nine games on the road, 16 different personnel on the hockey side between players, coaches and trainers, and everybody getting to know each other, them getting accustomed to what I was about and what I was trying to implement, me getting to know different times.

"I said all along it would take 10, 12, 15 games. Our first 10 games, we were 3-6-1. Our next 10 was 5-4-1, and our next 10 was 8-1-1. We're all in the flow of things now.

"We know what the expectations are that we put on ourselves and, as an organization, we know what the accountability factors are. So now we're just playing hockey and doing what we need to do."

There were growing pains. Sutter -- and this should come as no surprise -- is unfailingly demanding, so there was a bit of an adjustment period for the troops.

Sure, many of them had played under the likes of Pat Burns, but that doesn't mean it's easy to adjust to what the new coach was trying to do.

"We started not good, so the coach -- right away -- it's hard for him to be the nice guy," said goalie Martin Brodeur. "He has to get everybody going, so at first, it was tough going. But the reality was we weren't doing well, and when we started to do better, we saw better of him. Now we know what he's expecting of us."

Of course, he's had to adjust his mindset, too.

From the start, Sutter demanded a high-energy team -- "a junior hockey type of thing," as Brodeur said -- but he has dialed back a bit.

Sutter knew he'd have to adapt on the fly, although he arrived with a solid of idea of what he wanted to do.

"I paid a lot of attention to New Jersey the last couple of years and how they'd done things and how they played, so it wasn't like I came into things and said, 'Wow,' " said Sutter. "I came in with my ears and eyes open but, at the same time, knowing what the task at hand was and what we wanted to get doing."


Videos

Photos