Mental fortitude propels Flames

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 1:41 PM ET


 Darryl Sutter is quick to quote stats to fortify his point.

 Powerplays, penalty killing and plus/minus numbers can all tell a story.

 But without handy figures to demonstrate grit and mental toughness, the Calgary Flames head coach yesterday could only serve up Game 6 and 7 highlights to make his case.

 "To come back the way they did in Game 6 and to come back the way they did (Monday) night, I don't think you teach that," Sutter said of the Flames' resiliency in defeating the Vancouver Canucks.

 "We had to believe we would have more energy than them, we had to believe in our young guys and their enthusiasm would outweigh (Vancouver's) experienced players.

 "It's pretty straight forward, nothing complicated."

 When Sutter was hired to coach the Flames in late December 2002, he immediately pinpointed a glaring weakness in the club.

 "They haven't been tough enough mentally," he said back then.

 "One thing I've found out about this team is everybody talks about accountability but there never was any."

 Boy, have times changed.

 His relatively young and inexperienced team will need to exhibit more of that mental toughness throughout the second round against the powerhouse Red Wings, beginning tomorrow night in Detroit.

 "They're at a level unto themselves in terms of experience, in terms of guys who have won, in terms of respect," Sutter said of a Wings lineup that's covered in grey hair and Stanley Cup rings. "They're a great team, they've assembled a bunch of quality players. It's interesting at the beginning of the season (critics said) they were too old, too slow...

 "We'll stick to our game plan, play our game and it won't change no matter who the opponent is. It's another huge step for our players."

 Veteran Flames defenceman Rhett Warrener said the close-knit club has demonstrated an ability to overcome obstacles this season and will need to continue riding that trend in Round 2.

 "It starts in the dressing room," said Warrener, pressure-tested in Cup finals while with Florida and Buffalo. "It's a bunch of guys who enjoy coming to the rink and playing together. Everyone gets along, it's a real tight group and I think it carries over onto the ice. Guys want to be successful for each other and want to work for each other."

 Second-year defenceman Jordan Leopold said the club responded to Vancouver as it did all season in earning its first playoff berth in eight years.

 "We faced another challenge, a Game 7 that we had been mentally preparing for since the all-star break and we just sort of went on from there."


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