Brent Sutter has completely moved on.
There’s been an undeniable enthusiasm radiating from Canada’s coach throughout the IIHF World Hockey Championship — a job opportunity that came directly on the heels of a mutual decision to part ways with the Calgary Flames last month.
“With everything that happened there so quickly (it was good) to get away from it and come over and coach a team that’s about all the right things,” Sutter said Monday after practice. “These guys have all jelled together as a team, the leaders are tremendous team guys, it’s a talented group, it’s a young group with some experience on it that knows how to win.
“As a coach it’s been great.”
By coincidence, the invitation from Hockey Canada came the same day Sutter split with the Flames and gave him the opportunity to throw himself directly into a new challenge.
He wasted little time.
It started with phone calls to every player before they departed for Europe and has continued with a unique approach to the tournament. Sutter and assistants Guy Boucher and Kirk Muller made a conscious decision not to overload the players with too much talk of systems and elected to have them skate just a handful of times while opening with six games in nine days.
The team went 5-0-1 over that stretch and needs just one point from Tuesday’s game against Belarus to clinch top spot in the Helsinki pool heading to the medal round.
“The only chance you have is, first and foremost, to become unified,” said Sutter. “That’s what we focused in on here right off the hop, is becoming a better team and not complicating things — let’s simplify things, let’s keep it so there’s structure and yet something that you can allow their talent and skill to flourish in.”
An added benefit comes from the makeup of the roster.
Ten players had previously played under Sutter, including eight that won a world junior championship with him in either 2005 or 2006. That level of familiarity has resulted in a unique atmosphere around the dressing room.
“It’s not just me knowing them, it’s them knowing me,” said Sutter. “When you have success — and every one of those guys that I’ve coached in there through international competition, we’ve had success — that bond is always there.
“When you win something together as a group, it’s always going to be there.”
Those players have come to appreciate Sutter’s straightforward approach. There isn’t much mystery about what he wants to see on the ice.
“He’s a real good coach and he’s done a real good job here so far working on a lot of little things with our group,” said defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who played for Sutter in Red Deer, the 2005 world junior tournament and with the Flames.
“He’s a coach that demands hard work and an honest effort every night. When you do that, he’s happy.”
Sutter has been almost giddy during the past two weeks in Finland.
On a number of occasions, he has raved about the experience of working with Hockey Canada’s impressive management team, which includes Edmonton Oilers president Kevin Lowe, Toronto Maple Leafs director of hockey operations Dave Nonis and four NHL general managers: Peter Chiarelli (Boston), Steve Yzerman (Tampa), Ken Holland (Detroit) and Doug Armstrong (St. Louis).
“It’s been first class all the way,” said Sutter. “All of these guys have had success. At some point in time in their career, they’ve won and they know what it takes. ... There’s no insecurity involved — everything is about trust.
“It’s been really good. When you’re on good teams and teams that won, those things are huge for you.”
Sutter has done virtually nothing but win on the international stage, racking up 24 victories, one tie and one overtime loss while coaching at two world junior tournaments, the 2007 Russia-Canada Super Series and this world championship.
However, he chalks that superb record up to good circumstances and noted Monday that he’s seen the other side of the coin during coaching stints in the NHL.
Starting in 2007, Sutter spent two years with the New Jersey Devils before leaving to take a job from his brother Darryl in Calgary. The Flames narrowly missed out on the playoffs in all three years he coached there before he and GM Jay Feaster, who replaced Darryl Sutter in December 2010, decided it was best if they each moved in a different direction.
“When you look at the New Jersey situation, it was two years and we had some pretty good success there through regular season and we weren’t able to get through that first round of playoffs,” said Sutter. “But we broke a franchise record there for wins (in 2008-09).
“And unfortunately things didn’t work out the way you would have liked to in Calgary. That’s just the way it is, that’s sports. You can’t do anything about it and you move on.”