There are plenty of adjectives I could use to describe Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter when he sits down for his media availabilities: gruff, short, terse, intimidating, sour, dour, grumpy, grouchy, grinchy… wait, is that last one even a real word? I could go on and on with even more colorful descriptors, or I could give you a diametrically opposite characterization of his press conferences. They can be pure comedy gold.
Sutter is famous for “telling it like it is.” This can lead to some pretty great quotes, which is a rarity in this day and age where almost every player and coach in the NHL speaks in tired clichés and is reluctant to show anything resembling a personality. I swear, if I hear one more player say “pucks in deep” one more time, I’m going to lose it. Now, I know I’m stating the obvious when I say there is no shortage of personality emanating from the 63-year-old rancher from Viking, Alberta.
There are times when the Flames’ bench boss simply doesn’t have the patience for an extended chit-chat with the media. Just look at his extremely truncated, 32-second postgame presser from a few weeks ago. However, if you catch Calgary’s head coach in the just the right mood, his exceedingly honest, completely off-the-cuff comments can fill the press room with laughter — intentionally and sometimes not so intentionally. So, without further delay, I give you Sutter’s top four comedy hits of the 2021-22 season.
#4 Making Sure His Players Don’t Feel Too Good About Themselves
Smack dab in the middle of the Flames’ 10-game winning streak, a reporter asked Sutter how he planned to keep his squad grounded while they are riding high on a hot stretch. I believe the exact question asked of the head coach was “how he keeps his team from feeling too good about themselves.” Without a moment’s hesitation Sutter replied, “Oh, I’m good at that.”
What brought down the house was the wry smile that accompanied the quick quip and the knowledge from everyone in the room that the Flames’ head coach is acutely aware of his well-earned reputation of being extremely stingy with his compliments. Of course, he’s an expert at telling his players not to get a big head! This is Darryl Sutter we’re talking about after all.
#3 A Cushion is a Pillow
This next comedy bit was actually a bit surreal. When Sutter was asked in mid-February about that very same 10-game winning streak giving the Flames a “cushion” in the Pacific Division playoff race, the head coach seemed initially confused by the question and needed some clarification. However, once he figured out what the reporter was talking about, the Flames’ bench boss got a little philosophical about the intrinsic nature of pillows.
“A cushion is a pillow with feathers, right? Every game you lose, you take a few feathers out. Pretty soon, you’ve got your head on — no cushion at all.”Darryl Sutter, on having a cushion
Originally, it appeared Sutter was going to answer the question in his straightforward, matter-of-fact style. He started his response with “you need 100 points to make the playoffs, it’s very simple,” but then he suddenly switched gears. It was as if the “cushion/pillow” idea struck him like a bolt of lightning out the blue, and thus, one of his best funniest (and weirdest) quotes of the 2021-22 campaign was born.
#2 A Waste of Eight Days
Probably one of the biggest laughs Sutter got this year from a room full of media types was when he talked about the unfortunate Western Conference wild card team that would have to face off against the Colorado Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs. After telling reporters: “It will have to be a team falling off the face of the earth for a wild card team to come out of this division,” the head coach dropped his best line of the season.
While the room broke out in laughter, I honestly don’t think Sutter was trying to be funny. Rather, he looked dead serious as he delivered his assessment of a potential first-round matchup. Even after the chuckles died down, he continued to talk about the need for his team to stay vigilant: “So, that just tells you what you have to do everyday. Anybody that’s too comfortable or cozy, I’m saying it right now, you won’t last long.” This was vintage Sutter.
#1 Talking About the New Guy
While the “waste of eight days” line was an example of getting big laughs while not even trying, Sutter is also pretty good at landing a good zinger. After Calle Jarnkrok joined the team last week, it seemed every second question coming from the media was about the connection the Swedish forward had with cousin Elias Lindholm and best buddy Jacob Markstrom. When a reporter asked the head coach if he had reached out to past coaches to get a read on Jarnkrok, Sutter jumped on the opportunity to get in a few digs on his top-line center.
“No, we didn’t. We had his cousin and the goalie hitting you over the head about it. I told Lindy, ‘You better be careful. If you think he’s that good, he’ll take your ice time away. You can value a guy right out of your role.’ ”Darryl Sutter, on Elias Lindholm’s glowing assessment of Calle Jarnkrok
This was a rare playful moment from Sutter, as he was chuckling and smiling throughout the hilarious exchange with the assembled media. As tough as Calgary’s head coach can be at times, it was nice to see the softer side of the future Hall-of-Famer. After covering the Flames for two seasons and watching over a hundred press conferences, this was probably my favorite “Sutter moment,” and quite likely his funniest as well. What did I tell you? Pure comedy gold.
Sutter’s Honorable Mention Moments
While three of Sutter’s four greatest comedy hits from the 2021-22 campaign were quite light-hearted in nature, there’s no doubt that a lot of his funny quotes can stem from more serious moments. There are two in particular that didn’t necessarily get big laughs in the media room, but they certainly made me chuckle and, thus, deserve an honorable mention.
The first came just last week after Calgary’s 1-0 loss to Buffalo. Sutter seemed downright annoyed with the team’s medical staff for taking such a long time to stitch up defenceman Erik Gudbranson after he got cut in the first period. In his postgame presser, his tone was angry, but his quote was simply terrific.
The second humorous quip that deserves a shoutout came on trade deadline day, when a reporter asked Sutter if all of the hype that comes with the day can be a distraction. “Can it be? You have to ask the players, that’s not for me to say,” he told the media. “I’m not getting traded today. I could get fired, but I’m not getting traded.” What makes that quote so funny for me is the idea that a surefire finalist for the Jack Adams Trophy would get axed while his team is having a terrific season and leading the Pacific Division.
There’s no denying that Sutter can come across a little cantankerous at times. Let’s face it, he didn’t get the obviously sarcastic nickname of “the jolly rancher” by playing nice. I was honestly a bit skeptical when the Flames hired him back last season, as I wasn’t sure his hardline approach would work in today’s NHL. I’d have to say it’s definitely working, and while his tough-love coaching style hasn’t changed much, seeing him have a bit of fun with the media this year has been quite refreshing. Is Calgary’s bench boss finally going soft?
Who knows? Maybe a career in standup comedy awaits Sutter when his coaching days are finally over. “The jolly rancher” already has one thing going for him — he has a great stage name ready to go. In the end, perhaps it won’t be so obviously sarcastic after all.
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Greg Tysowski is a former broadcast journalist who chose the exciting life of a stay-at-home dad for over a decade. He’s now a published author, parenting blogger and aspiring sports writer covering the Calgary Flames for The Hockey Writers. Greg is also a regular contributor to the weekly roundtable discussion “Flames Faceoff”, now streaming on YouTube and all podcast outlets.