You snooze, you win

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:41 PM ET


 As tens of thousands took to the streets to celebrate Calgary's 3-0 win Saturday, two coaches prepared for the next game in radically different fashions.

 While Lightning coach John Tortorella burned the midnight oil dissecting hours of game film, his Calgary counterpart slept.

 Like a baby.

 You see, the man responsible for orchestrating what may soon be remembered as the most improbable Cup run in the history of the NHL has a theory: The best-prepared team wins.

 So how could Sutter snooze while Tortorella toiled?

 Because Sutter had already mapped out in his mind the tiny adjustments he and his players will make for Game 4 tonight.

 "His photographic memory of the game is amazing. He has total recall," said assistant coach Jim Playfair, who has long been in awe of Sutter's style as both leader and teacher.

 "He rarely has to go through video. He forever shocks people with his recollection of the game."

 During games, he's making a mental list of challenges he'll issue his players individually to better prepare them for the next outing.

 And that, explains Playfair, is why the hallmark of the Flames this spring has been their ability to respond to adversity.

 Whenever the team appears to be in a tailspin or seems to have been figured out by the opposition (see Game 2 in Tampa), Sutter's soldiers respond with another win.

 "The sense of urgency and attention to detail is constant and that's why our team has a level of consistency," said Playfair, whose club has a 2-1 series lead over Tampa in the Stanley Cup final.

 "So when the expectation levels and demands are stepped up, they can respond. Even when we take a step back, our team doesn't stumble. He maxes out the intensity and preparation every day. His intensity is infectious and that's what the room has."

 While Calgary hockey fans have been riding a roller-coaster of emotions through these playoffs, the players have remained even-keeled thanks to a belief in their system and a game-day preparation that sees Sutter's gritty club ramp up the intensity when needed most.

 "Darryl doesn't wait until 7 p.m. -- he starts preparing for the game when he walks in in the morning," said Playfair of Sutter's unique style.

 "He challenges people early in the day and in so many different ways. It may be shouting at practice, it may be in his office, it may be over a coffee or maybe it's in front of everybody. He rarely dresses a guy down, though -- it's not the Russian Red Army. He'll tell you, 'Hey, you're going against this or that player and you have to be better than him.' He includes everybody. He's huge into accountability but you can't hold someone accountable unless you have given them demands."

 Once that's done, everyone in the room knows what their responsibilities are and the pre-game focus can then be on picking the emotional level up.

 For Sutter, that means 24 hours before game time the players must take his lead by focusing squarely on their assignments.

 "The focus and energy level he brings is unbelievable and people feed off that," said Playfair.

 "He'll get to the rink four hours before the game and sit in his office for an hour without saying a word. Then he paces and thinks some more. He's a deep thinker and he challenges you with what he's thinking about. He wants them to play the game out in their mind through the day -- nothing else matters except contributing to the team's challenges."

 Playfair says Sutter treats exhibition games with the same intensity. For some, that environment takes a little getting used to.

 "I used to hate him when I played for him," admits Playfair, who captained Sutter's Turner Cup-winning Ice of Indianapolis in 1990.

 "I'd come home and say to my wife, 'He is an #%&.' The next day, I'd say, 'What a great guy.' At the end of the day, you always respect him. That's what good pros are all about -- they recognize at the end of the day it's not personal. I look back and realize all he was doing was pushing us farther than we thought we could be pushed."

 It worked then, it worked in San Jose and it's working now as his club is two wins from a Stanley Cup.

 No wonder he slept so well.


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