Sutter shows the way

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:23 AM ET

STONY PLAIN -- There haven't been a lot of Jack Adams trophy winners behind the bench in Allan Cup history.

And there wouldn't be one this year if the Bentley Generals weren't such nags. But when your team is desperately trying to take the next step in its evolution, and there's a former NHL coach of the year living 10 minutes down the road, well, you don't take no for an answer.

So they made Brian Sutter an offer he couldn't refuse: coach our team and we'll stop showing up at your farm all the time to harass you about coaching our team.

"The Smyth boys, Kevin and Jared, knew him fairly well through Ryan," said Generals president and GM Wes Gyori. "And they just started working on him, kept bugging him. I did some, too, but, quite honestly, it was more Kevin and Joe Vandermeer and those guys. They just kept on him till he said yes."

In their first season with Sutter behind the bench, the Generals won the Alberta playoffs, beat the B.C. champion and are 2-0 at the Canadian AAA hockey championship after yesterday's 5-3 win over Halifax. So far, so good.

"The hardest thing for Brian was finding the time to make the commitment," said Gyori. "But once he decided to do it, it was the best of both worlds. He can do what he loves to do, raise those Angus cattle, and still have hockey in his life."

For a while there, some of the Generals might have regretted their persistence. Under Sutter, practices were harder, leashes were shorter, rules were stricter.

Shortcuts they might have taken in the past were closed off. The easy way was replaced by the hard way.

"Everything is a new experience for these guys," said Sutter, who won the Jack Adams in 1991 with St. Louis and was a runner-up for the award twice (1993 in Boston and 2002 in Chicago).

"All our guys said they wanted to win, but saying you want to win isn't enough."

So Sutter, assisted by Brian Stephenson, whom he's known since they were 16-year-olds with the Red Deer Rustlers, began the process of showing them the difference between talking and doing.

"All we've done is given them some direction and not allowed them to take a path of their own on nights when they easily could have," said Sutter. "We're pretty obstinate about how they play as a group."

Surprise, surprise.

"He knows how to motivate you and get you going, and he expects a lot out of you," said Jared Smyth. "He holds you accountable and he's not going to let you get off the hook easily. But a lot of guys are playing their best hockey right now."

The ones who were able to stick it out, anyway.

"Between the two of them they really bring a whole other level of seriousness to it," said Gyori. "But that meant that a lot of things had to change, and some of the guys weren't prepared. Fortunately we had enough people who wanted to play."

While a lot of the praise for Bentley's run this year will go to the coaches, they deflect everything to those nagging players who knew having a Sutter at the helm was going to be tough, but roped him anyway.

"We give them a lot of credit," said Stephenson. "These are all working people, raising families, trying to make ends meet, and they're willing to put up with all the stuff the coaches dump on them.

"It's a big commitment on their part because it takes a lot of dedication to get this far. We're really proud of these guys."


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