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|Sutter catching on as Kings coach|
|Written by Andrew Knoll|
|Friday, 01 June 2012 01:24|
Every coach has their own lingo and eccentricities for players to get used to. In the case of Darryl Sutter, it took the Kings a bit to catch on. Now that they have, the team has taken off.NEWARK, N.J. – Heading into the season, Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar spoke five languages: Slovene, Serbian, German, Swedish and English.
Now, he’s added a sixth: Sutterish.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter speaks low in both tone and volume, often delivering meandering statements that are punctuated by two consistently decipherable phrases: “Right?” and “Not hard to figure out.”
What comes in between has generally been anyone’s best guess.
In fact, in early practices, many of the Kings were competing for spots at the back of the line during drills so they could figure out what was going on.
“The first practice we ever had, we didn’t even go to the (dry erase) board,” Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown said. “It was a tough practice because no one knew what we were doing.”
Yet the Kings have quickly learned to not only hear Sutter but also to understand and appreciate him.
Once a team as wayward as their coach’s sentence structure, they have shaken off underachievement and become odds-on favorites for the Stanley Cup since Sutter replaced Terry Murray back in December.
“Darryl brings attention to the emotional side of the game,” Brown said. “It’s hard to play this game when you’re not emotionally attached to it. I think Darryl is really good at pushing your buttons and finding ways to get everyone to where they need to be emotionally to perform well on the ice.”
In talking to dozens of his former players, nearly everyone used the words fair, direct and honest when describing Sutter. He has commanded such reverence that even career pros said that they elevated their performance to avoid letting him and, by extension, their teammates down.
In 2004, the Calgary Flames accomplished the same feat as the Kings, knocking off the top three seeds in the West en route to the Stanley Cup Final.
Martin Gelinas scored all three series-clinching goals. But his historic individual feat came after Sutter delivered the truth bluntly to Gelinas in the first round against Vancouver.
“He got me in the room and he said ‘Marty, if I had another left winger, you would not be playing next game,’” said Gelinas, now in the Nashville front office. “As an older guy it took me by surprise and my pride got hurt a little bit.
“After that, I realized, all he wants is more from me, more leadership, he wants me to step up my game. And that happened afterward.”
Sutter has preached that top players need to be top players, and indeed he has gotten serious mileage from his top six forwards, top four defensemen and starting goaltender.
But the Kings have prevailed in critical moments due to the even contribution of their role players as well, much like those Flames.
“He makes everybody feel a part of it. Whether you’re a fourth line guy playing two minutes or you’re the top guy playing 20 minutes,” said Craig Conroy, the top center for Calgary in 2004. “He says we’re not gonna do it without every single guy. And you really believe it, some coaches say it but he really believes it deep down.”
Sutter uses increased minutes, reduced ice time, encouragement and criticism to reach his players. His hockey philosophy is at once simple, elegant, brutal and driven.
“You realize it’s nothing personal,” Gelinas said. “He wants you to bring your game up so that the team can be successful.
He can also bring a scathingly sarcastic wit to the table, the kind which might not be appreciate on the receiving end.
“He used to say some things and you were like, ‘Really?’” Conroy said. “At the time you didn’t like it. Years later, you look back and laugh and say, ‘I can’t believe he said that to us!”
The Flames had a rougher run than the Kings, who are 13-2 in these playoffs. However the Kings have avoided getting drunk off their success the same way the Flames remained resilient in the face of tough losses.
“We got beat badly in some of the games, by four, five, six goals maybe,” Conroy said. “He said that was one game, let’s just move forward. If we won 1-0 or we lost 6-1, he never made us feel like we were out of anything. He always said ‘It takes four to win a series.’”
No matter how garbled Sutter’s public persona may be, his message to his players is as clear as his mission. Now, he and the Kings sit just three wins away from accomplishing it.
Not hard to figure it out … right?
Photos by Getty Images