Coach loves tough crew

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:52 PM ET


 The coach is in Calgary's corner during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

 Don Cherry, never afraid of dropping the gloves, thinks the Flames have made all the right moves this season.

 Hockey Night in Canada's bombastic expert claims GM/coach Darryl Sutter has built a hard-nosed playoff contender that could startle opponents this spring while goaltending will determine their fate.

 "The big thing was getting (Miikka) Kiprusoff and (Chris) Simon," reasons Cherry, whose opinions are often as loud as his attire and rattled the nerves of CBC censors this winter.

 "Sure, I could go through the whole lineup and list guys like (Craig) Conroy and on and on but it's character guys like Simon. He's a good friend of mine; he's a key player on that team and the kind of guy you need to win. He's a big strong guy who can score.

 "But in the playoffs, it goes right back onto your goalie. With a hot goalie like Kiprusoff's been, you can beat anybody -- Dallas, Toronto, Detroit -- anybody."

 Yet despite liking Calgary's chances of advancing beyond the first round, Cherry warns the Canucks, against whom the Flames opened a best-of-seven series last night in Vancouver, also have plenty to fight for this spring.

 "Vancouver has developed an 'us against the world' mentality since the (Todd) Bertuzzi thing and because of that, they're going to be tough," advises Cherry, whose brash opinions will be enjoyed and occasionally cursed by millions of CBC hockey viewers throughout the playoffs.

 Cherry said Calgary fans should revel in the playoff atmosphere after suffering through seven long seasons without post-season excitement. Some 20,000 faithful are expected to rattle the Saddledome rafters for Games 3 and 4 Sunday and Tuesday.

 "That standing ovation last year when they missed the playoffs -- that was something," Cherry recalls.

 "It's so easy to be great fans when it's goin' good but for the fans to stick around when you don't make the playoffs for seven years, that's a lot tougher."

 Cherry suggests Sutter deserves most of the credit for tweaking the lineup for a spring run and offering the leadership necessary to overcome the playoff hurdle.

 "The people above him said, 'Look, we're going to go with whatever you say,' and it's worked," Cherry explains.

 "Then he went out and got guys like Kiprusoff ... but it's management that's been 100 percent behind him in everything he's done.

 "They might not always understand (his decisions) but they're going to stick with him.

 "I know firsthand all these people around the league who say you can't be a GM and head coach, too. Yes you can. Especially if you have the right group of assistant coaches and Sutter does."


Videos

Photos