He's tough lovin' it!

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:45 PM ET


 VANCOUVER -- The salvos from the principal's office aren't sugar-coated.

 Kid gloves are never an option.

 Darryl Sutter makes no bones about pushing, cajoling, testing and coaxing his players.

 Often to the limit.

 Never playing favourites.

 Always attaining results.

 There's one thing everyone has learned during the Calgary Flames playoff series: The GM/head coach is willing to push his players to the extreme and allow all to see.

 So far, it's had an instant payoff.

 "It's not just in the playoffs," said defenceman Andrew Ference.

 "A reason we're in the playoffs is because he's a coach that, throughout the entire year, has demanded excellence from every player.

 "That's part of Darryl's identity, a reason he's such a good coach. He doesn't let guys slip.

 "It's part of the conditioning through the

 82 games of the regular season and up to now."

 Seeing as everything is magnified in the playoffs, Sutter's blasts have become all the more noticeable.

 So have the results.

 Here's the scorecard, and results, from the first week of the series with Vancouver.

 - After an opening-game loss, the targets were Jarome Iginla and Miikka Kiprusoff. Since then, Calgary's two most important players have been the series' best.

 - Denis Gauthier was benched for the bulk of the third period in a Game 3 loss. In Game 4, the rugged rearguard doled out a barrage of hits and shut down the Canucks' top guns.

 - Just before Game 4, Chris Clark, Martin Gelinas and Shean Donovan were chastised for their lack of offence. Hours later, Clark nets a goal and assist. Donovan also scores. Gelinas collects a helper and crashes the net to draw the penalty that led to Clark's goal.

 The style is a throwback to a bygone era of sports. Now, coaching seems more about stroking egos, ensuring feelings aren't hurt.

 "I was always challenged because I was a captain," said Sutter. "With that, you're responsible for the identity of your team. You're expected to transfer the identity of your players onto the ice. It's not criticism; it's trying to get the most out of your players.

 "It's accountability and we wouldn't be a playoff team without accountability."

 Sometimes it takes guts to survive Sutter's barbs.

 Gauthier, always one to wear his heart on his sleeve, appeared hurt by being an open target. But he did what he could to move things in the right direction.

 "That's his job," Gauthier said of Sutter's criticism. "He sees guys aren't playing to their potential and that's what he does best. You don't want to be called out, you have to respond."

 However, Sutter's venom doesn't come without explanation.

 As willing as he is to blast, Sutter is just as open to dialogue. He and Gauthier had something of a heart-to-heart long before the puck dropped Tuesday.

 "(Sutter) does it because he wants to see you play at the absolute top of your game," said defenceman Robyn Regehr. "He's very emotional and intense, so right after a game if he blasts you, he will talk to you the next day and discuss how you can get better."

 Explains Ference: "It's not like he waves a magic wand and guys start playing well. He's assembled a group of guys who'll step up to challenges and won't cower in the corner because they've been called out by the coach.

 "He's built this team that way. That's as simple of an explanation as I can give.

 "It's honest and fair and, to a man, we take it like that. You want the truth and we get the truth.

 "We have to meet the expectations and that's what we're here for. We're not here to play hockey, we're here to win."


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