Flames boss must feel like king of Calgary

GEORGE GROSS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 5:11 PM ET

 Calgary is blessed with oil, wealth, the Calgary Stampede and more recently, the Calgary Flames.

 Indeed, Calgary is ablaze with Flames fever now that its beloved shinny team has a shot to advance to the Stanley Cup final for the first time in 15 years.

  Two men are chiefly responsible for this year's success -- head coach/general manager Darryl Sutter and president Ken King, who hired Sutter.

 I've known King for several years, better when he became publisher of The Calgary Sun. In fact, during the 1988 Winter Olympics, he saved my bacon when Doug Creighton, the founding publisher of The Toronto Sun, was displeased that day with our picture selection from the Games. King stepped in and calmed Doug down.

 Yesterday, when I contacted King, he was just as calm in spite of the 3-0 loss on home ice to the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of the Western Conference final. He was in a jovial mood, like someone who had just sold a bunch of oil shares, or whose team leads San Jose 2-1 in the series.

 "The loss is part of the playoffs," said King, an ardent hockey fan. "But, I'm sure, Darryl will prepare the team for the crucial fourth game (today)."

 King, who had been in the newspaper business for 30 years before accepting the challenge to run a hockey team, refused to take credit for the Flames' success.

 "Of the eight owners of our club, any one of them could run the club," King said. "But they wanted a change and appointed me president. I, in turn, hired Darryl. He is terrific. He practises his craft to perfection.

 "I don't consider my position as a job. I believe it is a responsibility to the community. I relish the responsibility and consider serving the club a special joy."

 But the person who provides King with the most joy is Sutter. As an executive, King is convinced that one cannot buy a hockey team, but one can build one.

 "And in order to build one, you have to have the right architect," King said. "Sutter is that architect. He has a vision, a plan and enormous work ethic, the like of which I have never seen before. This man would succeed in any field with his talent. He's not a screamer, but he's a teacher and an inspirational leader."

 When King joined the Flames, the club was foundering on the ice and had only about 8,000 season ticket-holders. This year the Flames had 12 consecutive sellouts during the regular season and routinely draw sellouts during the playoffs.

 Actually, the city looks like a red sea with so many people wearing Flames jerseys.

 Unlike some executives in other cities, King was not prepared to name his favourite players, even though I suggested names such as goalie Miikka Kiprusoff and captain Jarome Iginla.

 "I like the complete package of our players," King said. "Most were picked by Darryl and he selects only players with character and right ingredients."

 Also, as Yogi Berra used to say and as former Maple Leaf player and now San Jose coach Ron Wilson preached before today's fourth game: "It ain't over until it's over ..."

 GROSSLY ABBREVIATED

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