Atlanta's loss felt by coach Sutter

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:59 AM ET

CALGARY - As good as he feels for the city of Winnipeg, there’s a part of Brent Sutter that can’t help but feel bad for the loss of the Atlanta Thrashers.

“It’s unfortunate when you see a team have to relocate. Maybe part of it is because I own my own business, too, in the hockey world. You never like to see teams relocate,” said the Calgary Flames head coach, who also owns the Western Hockey League’s Red Deer Rebels.

“But when it gets to a point it doesn’t seem you have a choice, you look down all avenues.

“I’m glad it’s coming to Canada.”

His Flames — a team that also once called Atlanta home — made one trip to Georgia to battle the Thrashers last season, and Sutter had been there a few times over the previous couple of years while coaching the New Jersey Devils.

Every time, he knew it was going to be a tough game.

Not because of the level of competition, but because there was never any energy in the stands. Not enough bodies to create one.

“I’m sure it was hard on their own players, their own organization, to go into a building and the attendance was just not what it needed to be at to support a pro team,” Sutter said.

“It was always a hard building to play in.

“You feel bad for them. You feel bad for the organization. You go over and play, and it’s a half-full or a third-full. There’s no atmosphere or environment in the building.

“You don’t want to see it that way. You want to see excitement and life in the building. Energy.

“It was hard to be in that environment, play in that environment ... That’s a tough thing for the players.”

Energy shouldn’t be a problem in the MTS Centre, where the in-need-of-an-official-name transplant will adopt tens of thousands of hockey-mad fans who enthusiastically cheered on the Jets until the day they left in 1996.

“The (new) rink is a little different than the old days,” said Sutter, who played his 1,000th NHL contest at the old Winnipeg Arena. “It seemed like it was 10-15-degrees colder just where the rink was at.”

But he expects the atmosphere to be as hot as it was when he was a player.

“There’s life in the building,” Sutter said.

“It’s our game. People here are hockey fanatics, and that’s just what it is.

“It’s great for Winnipeg. It’s great for hockey. You’re bringing an established team into a hockey culture, an environment that has always drawn well in the past.”

Yet, there’s still that discomfort in celebrating.

“It’s exciting on one side. On the other side, it’s too bad it didn’t work out in Atlanta,” Sutter said.

“That’s two times now.”

steve.macfarlane@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/MacfarlaneSteve


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