Brent Sutter Prepares Flames To Run The Gauntlet

The Gauntlet

As Wikipedia notes:

Running the gauntlet (originally gantlet, and, rarely, gantlope or gantelope) is a form of physical punishment wherein a man is compelled to run between two rows — a gauntlet — of soldiers who strike him as he passes.

Redskins Clinton Portis 'Runs The Gauntlet' Of Cheerleaders {Photo: Flickr - C&R Dunn}
Redskins Clinton Portis ‘Runs The Gauntlet’ Of Cheerleaders {Photo: Flickr – C&R Dunn}

In certain team sports such as lacrosse and hockey, ‘the gauntlet’ is also a common name for a type of drill whereby players are blocked or checked by the entire team in sequence.

As I listened to regular guest Pierre McGuire on Mike Richards In The Morning on the local sports radio station, the Fan960, a couple weeks back, I was enthralled by a narrative relayed by McGuire on Flames bench boss, Brent Sutter. The setting was the highly anticipated 2007 Super Series between Canadian and Russian junior squads. If you recall, this was an eight-game series in late August/early September, featuring the best Under-20 World Junior players of each nation. The series began with four games in Russia followed by four games in Canada. This late summer Canada/Russia series featured the best players under the age of 20, who were eligible to compete in the 2008 IIHF World Junior Championship in December in the Czech Republic. This event was initiated to celebrate the 35th Anniversary of the Canada / Russia Summit Series.

While in Russia, prior to the commencement of the series, Coach Brent Sutter was revolted by his players’ performance and preparation. Finally, a line was crossed and Brent had enough – Time to implement some semblance of the famed Sutter work ethic into this crew.

The result: All players (John Tavares, Drew Doughty, Luke Schenn, Brandon Sutter, Sam Gagner, Claude Giroux included) got a taste of Running The Gauntlet – Sutter style! The on-looking Russian crowd at the rink that day watched in amazement as Brent Sutter ran the promising elite ensemble of the best of the best young Canadian hockey talent through the Sutter-tough drill. In all likelihood, not unlike some highly disciplined elite Russian athlete training of old, but surprising to see a Canadian squad going through such rigors.

Running The Gauntlet - Wikimedia Commons
Running The Gauntlet – Wikimedia Commons

The end result: We all know now the Canadians proceeded to put on a dominant effort, finishing the series with 7, mostly convincing, wins and a tie in the eight games played.

As the Flames slowly adapt to Sutter’s coaching system, I was left to ponder if and win he might have to break out some tough as nails tactics to bring the seemingly slow to catch on Flames up to speed in a Matthew Lombardi –like fashion.

Brent Sutter’s “System”

The Sutter led Flames, while off to a respectable start and record, displayed only glimpses of playing Brent Sutter’s patented brand of hockey. Albeit, they never seem to be able to play anywhere near the required 60 minute effort night in and night out to become the Cup contender many believed them to be at the start of the season.

Matchsticks And Gasoline summed up Sutter’s system as “defensively responsible, but still high tempo.”

In a season preview, CBC Sports noted: “The new sheriff insists that puck possession is part of his strategy to prevent goals, but he’ll have to get his charges to buy into the idea that better defensive play can translate into more wins.”

The Flames 2009 Version – Sutter Close To Tipping Point

Last Saturday’s loss at home to the Red Wings finally brought out a little of the Sutter wrath, which Brent is more than capable of bringing to the rink.

While not quite breaking out The Gauntlet just yet, as Flaming Pucks James Duplacey reported:

“After a stern 10-minute lecture reminding the players that average effort produces below-average results, the bench boss put his troops through an arduous adventure where every on-ice error or undisciplined drill was punished with a spirited series of half-ice wind sprints.

That episode was followed by an intense, competitive and combative series of one-on-one battles that shortened tempers and raised the threshold of pain versus gain.”

The Calgary Herald’s George Johnson eloquently added:

“Oh, you could just feel the love. It washed over them, bathed them, like a steady downpour of acid rain.

“I’m not being harsh,’’ said Brent Sutter, with flat, stark candour. “I’m not being an a–. It’s not that this group doesn’t care. They care.

“But we will not accept mediocrity.’’

Almost as if he dared venture close enough to the objects of his ire, he might bust a blood vessel or be seized by the irresistible impulse to do a Homer Simpson-strangling-Bart imitation on the nearest Calgary Flame.

Meticulous, impassioned and rigid, Sutter has never been mistaken for Captain Stubing, but Monday the highly paid help got an unsettling peek at his Captain Bligh. It’s a wonder one or two them aren’t hanging from the highest yardarm in the British Fleet for their mutinous efforts of the past few days.”

Flames Response

So far, so good. The Flames have responded with two road overtime victories that could have easily went the other way. Perseverance and a sense of urgency were definitely on display.

There was also a collective sigh of relief from Flames Faithful on two fronts:

– Backup backstop Curtis McElhinney gets the proverbial monkey off his back with a superlative performance in Dallas to get the win (his first of the season), filling in for a then ill Kiprusoff. A steady, reliable backup netminder has been an obvious endless underlying concern. Major psychological pressure has been thrown McElhinney’s way and he badly needed this performance and the resulting victory.

– The seemingly annual Iginla Resurgence is once again upon us. Iginla was back to his him game-changing self in both road victories.

While the Flames still have to work to do defensively, Brent Sutter is showing no doubts that he is the man for the job to lead them into the playoffs. One can only hope he learned from the Devils early playoff exit last season and can have the Flames playing the brand of hockey they need to playing to lead them deep into the playoffs. Whether he is forced to breakout his version of The Gauntlet anytime soon remains to be seen.

If Flames players fail to buy in to what Brent Sutter is “selling” in terms of the team system, I can see him coming up with a Herb Brooks-like “Again!” hockey practice.

The Flames November adventure continues tonight as they host the Big Apple Rangers tonight at the Saddledome.
{TV: 8 PM MST, 10 PM EST on CBC; Radio: Fan960}

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