LOS ANGEGLES, Calif. – The name “SUTTER” will be etched into the Stanley Cup once again.
After more than two decades in professional hockey, Darryl Sutter finally has a chance to bring the trophy back to Viking, Alta., just as brothers Duane and Brent did before him. He wisely answered a phone call from old friend Dean Lombardi while working in the barn back in December and the rest is history.
The veteran coach didn’t know much about the Los Angeles Kings when that job offer arrived beyond the fact he thought they had a collection of great players.
“I wasn’t wrong,” said Sutter.
That group passed the Stanley Cup around on the ice at Staples Center on Monday night after eliminating the New Jersey Devils in Game 6. Eventually it arrived to Sutter and he hoisted the trophy as well, something the second-oldest of six brothers to reach the NHL waited a lifetime to do.
There couldn’t have been a better antidote for an underperforming team.
The Kings were lost in the wilderness when the farmer arrived to the glitz and glamour of L.A., but Sutter soon showed his players the way. At times, he challenged them and intimidated them. And he led by example while preaching about the importance of preparation.
“His intensity is an intensity that I haven’t encountered yet,” said forward Dustin Penner, who left an awful regular season behind with a solid playoff performance. “He’s always on. When you get to the rink, he’s pacing. It’s game time for him all the time. It bleeds out to the rest of the team — the way he talks to us, the way he coaches the game, the way he teaches it, from practices to during the game to the intermissions.”
Playing in a sun-splashed, laid-back environment isn’t usually conducive to success. It’s probably not a coincidence that this was the first championship for the Kings organization in 45 years.
After taking Lombardi’s call, Sutter moved into the Manhattan Beach house that had been occupied by predecessor Terry Murray and set about getting his players to collectively raise their performance, a task much easier said than done.
His approach clearly worked.
“There’s games where I thought I didn’t play my best and he brought attention to it pretty quickly,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “That goes a long way, whether you’re a young player or older player. When you have a guy that’s pushing you to be better, not just you but everyone, it goes a long way. Maybe helping you look at yourself in the mirror.”
Perhaps the best testament to Sutter’s impact can be seen in the fact the Kings won the first three games of every series despite enduring long breaks between each one. For two months, there was no letdown or loss of focus.
Sutter is a straight shooter who is economical with his words and repeatedly brushed aside queries during the playoffs about what significance winning the Stanley Cup would carry for him. Without fail, he would note that the focus should be on the players.
But hockey is in the man’s blood and there had to be a great swell of pride inside after finally reaching the summit of the sport in his 24th season as either a NHL player or coach. As he was fond of telling the Kings, this is likely the “first time, last time, only time” many of them would have the chance to win the Stanley Cup.
After the Cup clinching game, however, he encouraged his team to try again next year.
“You know the first thing you think about as the coach? These guys are all young enough the’ve got to try it again,” he said.
Sutter had seen two previous opportunities pass him by — as an associate coach with the 1992 Chicago Blackhawks and head coach of the 2004 Calgary Flames — and there was every chance another wouldn’t arrive.
After stepping down as Flames general manager in December 2010, he returned to the farm and was quite content with his lot in life. But he never totally took his attention away from the NHL and he’d even watched the Kings play a few times on television this season prior to becoming their coach.
“When you’re in Canada, you watch hockey every night, right?” said Sutter. “It’s dark at 4:30 and you watch hockey. That’s what you do. It’s a good thing.”
What else would you expect from a Sutter? Duane and Brent each won three Stanley Cups while playing for the New York Islanders dynasty teams and Darryl remembers seeing the trophy sitting on his mom’s kitchen table.
And now after a painfully long wait, it’s his turn to bring the Stanley Cup back to Viking. Back where it belongs.