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Calgary Herald art (Sutter keeps focus on season as questions about his future surface)

April 3 2012 at 7:33 AM
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Response to Vancouver Province article (Giants bid fond farewell)

Sutter keeps focus on season as questions about his future surface

By Scott Cruickshank, Calgary Herald

April 3, 2012

Calgary Flames head coach Brent Sutter oversees practice Monday at the Scotiabank Saddledome.

Photograph by: Dean Bicknell, Calgary Herald , Calgary Herald

There they were Monday afternoon - skating in circles, then doing line rushes, then needling Henrik Karlsson into swearing fits.

Just another day in the Calgary Flames' 2011-12 story.

Except, of course, it wasn't. The on-ice session was the Flames' first since being officially eliminated from National Hockey League playoff contention.

But even with that downer of a development, it had been business as usual.

Try telling Brent Sutter otherwise.

"It's an 82-game schedule, not an 80-game schedule," the Flames coach, grim-faced (even by his standards), muttered after practice. "Let's get ready to play the next two games. I mean, that's our duty, that's our entitlement. There's a lot of reasons why you want to do that, too. Just to name a few - self-pride; the front of that jersey; we have a tremendous ownership group here that are tremendously supportive; and certainly your fans. So, there's a lot of reasons, guys."

The loose ends of another disheartening winter are two home dates - Thursday night against the Vancouver Canucks, Saturday afternoon against the Anaheim Ducks.

Sutter, as a player, won Stanley Cups and Canada Cups.

As a coach, he captured the Memorial Cup and world junior championships.

Now this. After two first-round exits at the helm of the New Jersey Devils, he has fallen short of the post-season three straight years in Calgary.

Not surprisingly, that rankles. "It's tough," said Sutter. "I'm not going to stand here in front of all you guys and say that this is something easy to deal with. It's not. It's very disappointing to know that you're not going to be in the playoffs again . . . and you feel totally responsible for it, as I do.

"It's a tough time. That being said, my job as head coach is make sure your team is ready to play these next two games to the best of our ability. That's our focus."

So much is it his focus right now that Sutter declined to discuss his future.

His three-year contract, as everyone knows, expires in June.

Does he stay or does he go? "No, I'm not talking about myself," said Sutter. "You guys know my situation, so there's nothing really to discuss about it. Like I said, at this point in time, I feel totally responsible. I feel like I let a lot of people down. That's the way I feel, personally. As a coach, you take on the job to get things done."

On the ice, obviously, there had been plenty of soft spots.

But Sutter wasn't particularly eager to dissect those, either. Or explain why his message didn't always get through.

"I really don't want to get into that right now," he said. "Again, there's reasons. They're going to have to be addressed when the season's over. It's not something that, all of a sudden, has transpired here - it's something that has grown. And, at some point in time, it's definitely got to be hit head on."

Less cryptic, more cut and dry, is the team's current location.

Having bombed majestically down the stretch - 1-4-4 record in their past nine games, a stretch that includes just 14 goals - the Flames sit wedged in the Western Conference's 11th slot.

If they don't move, this will stand as their worst finish since 2002-03. That, just when it had appeared that back-to-back 10th-place finishes were as bad as it was going to get in these parts.

Blame can be sprinkled in a lot of directions, from the top players' stretch-drive fizzle, to the one-goal losses, to the road record, to the home-ice power play.

But, short of Miikka Kiprusoff, none of the players could rave about his winter's work.

No shock then that the Flames are what they are - a conference after-thought.

"Different times throughout the year, you could really take a step . . . to become a team where you're being the hunted," said Sutter. "On that, we failed at different times. We had chances in big games to really take the stand (and say), 'Hey, this can put us over the hump.' But, again, it gets down to consistency. I've been around the game a long time, I know the game. I've played on a lot of winning teams and I know what you need. Certain times throughout the year . . . there were times we needed it and never got it."

C-NOTES: Flames prospects C Max Reinhart and D Joey Leach, with the WHL Kootenay Ice being swept out of the playoffs, will join AHL Abbotsford . . . Calgary Hitmen G Brandon Glover signed an amateur tryout with Abbotsford. The Victoria native, 19, recorded a 1.87 GAA during the WHL post-season . . . LW Alex Tanguay and RW David Moss did not practise Monday. Follow Scott Cruickshank on Twitter/CruickshankCH

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