Press conferences with Darryl Sutter are usually very serious and straight-shooting affairs, but the one on Feb. 16 featured a rare moment of levity. Right in the middle of the Calgary Flames’ franchise record, 10-game winning streak, a reporter asked the head coach how he keeps his team from feeling too good about themselves during a lengthy heater. Without a moments hesitation, Sutter replied “Oh, I’m good at that.”
The half serious/half joking answer brought down the house with laughter, but make no mistake – the Flames’ bench boss wasn’t about to pump anyone’s tires for stringing together multiple wins in the regular season. This is a man on a mission, and he knows that dishing out easy compliments isn’t the way to get his team over the playoff hump.
Sutter Has Installed a Culture of Accountability
Sometimes a team’s star player can be shielded from the coach’s criticisms, but Sutter proved that nobody gets a free pass when he took over the reigns in Calgary just one year ago. It was only a few weeks into his second go-around as the Flames’ head coach when a reporter asked him for his thoughts on Johnny Gaudreau suiting up for his 500th career NHL game.
Normally the coach of a player about to reach a major milestone will offer up some kind of standard, congratulatory response to a softball question about a pending career accomplishment. Instead, Sutter’s answer was blunt, to the point and summarized exactly how he felt about the Flames’ leading scorer: “Hopefully, he has more energy than in his 499th game.” Ouch. It was that moment when I realized four years away from the game hadn’t softened the rough-around-the-edges rancher from Viking, Alberta. Not even a little bit.
While some players might resent a comment like that, Gaudreau took his coach’s very direct advice to heart, stepped up and completely added another dimension to his game. While Sutter’s criticism must have stung, just 50 games later he was describing his leading scorer as one of the best 200-foot players in the league. The Flames’ bench boss is notoriously stingy with his compliments but when he feels one of his players has earned one, he’s not afraid to dole out copious amounts of praise.
Sutter is Pushing Mangiapane to Take His Game to the Next Level
There’s no doubt that Andrew Mangiapane is having a breakout year. The Flames’ sniper is on pace for 40+ goals this season, but it appears Sutter has made it his mission to keep the budding star grounded and committed to improving his overall game. When Mangiapane set an NHL record on Feb. 1 after scoring 19 of his first 20 goals of the season on the road, Calgary’s head coach simply grumbled that his speedy winger needed to be better at home.
Like Gaudreau before him, Mangiapane took that criticism to heart and started potting goals left, right and center at the Scotiabank Saddledome. In fact, seven of his last nine markers have come at the Dome, including his most recent tally on March 3 against the Canadiens. The “Bread Man” had himself a whale of a game, notching three points on the night and setting up the game-tying goal with just 28 seconds left in regulation to send the contest to overtime.
In the end, the Flames lost that game so Sutter wasn’t in the mood to congratulate anyone. Instead of praising Mangiapane’s excellent offensive outing, the head coach offered up a rather blunt assessment: “He turned the puck over too many times.” Just a few days later, Calgary’s bench boss wasn’t pulling any punches when he sent his leading goal-getter another not-so-subtle message to pull up his socks.
“I think there’s four guys that are having big years, numbers-wise, that’s for sure. But three of them have rounded out their games in terms of what it takes to win – it’s more than just putting numbers up. I think that’s been important for those guys and that’s why they’re having really good years.”Calgary Flames Head Coach Darryl Sutter
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who the top three players are and which one still needs to work on his game. Mangiapane currently sits fourth in total points on the Flames’ roster and is having his biggest year since becoming a full-time player in 2018-19. However, it’s obvious that Sutter thinks his breakout winger has a lot more to prove and I fully expect No. 88 to rise to his coach’s challenge to be better.
The Flames Will Benefit From Sutter’s Championship Experience
If you get the feeling that nothing the Flames do is ever good enough for Sutter, I think you’re definitely on to something. The boys in red took down the number one team in the NHL on Saturday, proving they can hang with the league’s elite teams. However, if you think Calgary’s head coach wanted to take any time to rehash his team’s win over the Colorado Avalanche or bask in the glory of victory with a scrum of reporters, you would be mistaken.
Sutter’s media availability after what could have been the Flames’ biggest W of the season lasted all of 33 seconds. When asked about the team’s resiliency after being down early, the gruff coach gave an even gruffer answer: “they scored early, and then we scored. They scored, we scored.” Nothing more needed to be said. This is a coach that never dwells on past successes, as he feels there’s always room for improvement.
His players know this and have come to expect it. “Sometimes, after big wins, he’ll come in and just say, ‘We have to be better,’ ” Mangiapane said. “And he’s right.” Noah Hanifin echoed those comments: “We’re always learning. Each game, we dissect what we need to get better at, and we’re never too comfortable.” (from ‘Analyzing Year 1 of Sutter’s second stint with Flames’, Calgary Sun, 03/04/2022)
This is a coach that didn’t want to talk about the recent opportunities to set new franchise records for winning streaks. He has bigger fish to fry. When Sutter won two Stanley Cups in three years with the Los Angeles Kings, he did it by pushing the right buttons and getting the most out of his players. Why is anything the Flames do never good enough for this coach? It’s because there’s really only one thing that will ever be good enough, and that’s winning a championship. Remember when Sutter said he had “unfinished business”? Nothing else matters.
The Flames have definitely bought into Sutter’s systems, but it’s his coaching style that will ultimately put them over the top. I really don’t think Calgary can win it all without a whole lot of “tough love” from their future Hall of Fame coach.
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.