Sutter enjoyed change of pace

qDAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:05 PM ET


 TAMPA -- Players breaking curfew was one headache Darryl Sutter never worried about during the 1995-96 hockey season.

 Nor were there any annoying agents or pesky media lurking around the dressing room, although his players drew plenty of attention from adoring women.

 "They couldn't go to the bar yet, I know that," chuckled the Calgary Flames boss when quizzed about the minor hockey team he coached in Viking during a year away from the NHL.

 Dealing with stickhandling tykes and hockey moms was a stark contrast to the intense Stanley Cup final the Flames leader will find himself in when he walks behind the bench tonight in Tampa Bay.

 Quitting his job as head coach with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1995 after three seasons, Sutter returned home to Alberta to be with wife, Wanda, and their newborn son, Christopher.

 Sutter used the time to give back to the community that provided him with so much support as a young boy.

 Although he stayed on with the 'Hawks as a consultant for special assignments, Sutter started coaching his oldest son Brett (who now plays for the WHL's Kootenay Ice) and a team of eight-year-olds playing in the same Carena rink Sutter and his five brothers used as a launching pad to the NHL.

 "It's a little town and they need players and they need coaches. It was no big deal," Sutter shrugs. "My oldest boy was on the team. I grew up playing hockey there, so it was the same rink and it was fun -- do the chores, go to practice.

 "Coaching kids, I don't know what the big contrast is, kids having fun."

 Although Sutter downplays the significance of his season directing a swarm of rink rats, it provides a snapshot of what hockey means to our country, especially in rural centres.

 "It puts our Canadian hockey back into perspective," he explains.

 "We've lost a lot of that small-town identity.

 "It was kind of a way for me to give something back to those kids. That's a problem we have with minor hockey, either they're rich kids or kids in big centres. A lot of other good young players go unnoticed.

 "A lot of kids in rural areas are a hell of a lot better than kids in the big cities, to be quite honest.

 "Because their parents can't afford it or it's too far to drive or they don't want to move their son at a young age, then hockey's over."

 By the fall of 1997, Sutter returned behind the bench of an NHL team, moving to San Jose to begin a five-year stint with the Sharks before heading to Calgary 18 months ago.


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