Fundamentally sound

Brent Sutter is wasting no time putting his mark on his new team

Wednesday, 09.09.2009 / 3:48 PM / News
By Peter Zuurbier
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Fundamentally sound
Calgary Flames prospects got back to basics this week during their first practices under new head coach Brent Sutter.
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Sutter and his coaching staff promised a new attitude in the organization when they took over their duties in the summer. The changes were on display the moment Sutter took to the ice with the prospects.

The first order of the day was positioning in the defensive zone as Sutter ran the players through remedial on-ice positioning, even going so far as to direct players which way to have their heads pointed.

For Matt Pelech, who enjoyed a brief stint with the Flames at the end of last season, the drills may be old-school, but they are certainly valuable.

"It's just reinforcing good habits," said Pelech. "If you do that enough times it becomes second nature, because the last five minutes of the third period when you're real tired sometimes the brain is not working so you fall back to your habits. Repetition is great for getting rid of the bad habits."

The fervent pace of Sutter's first practices impressed Pelech, who missed the high-level competition over the off-season months.

“It's hard to find high-tempo ice during the summer so they let us really get in and find our groove," said Pelech. "They're re-enforcing good defensive habits, play hard and play as a team, and do the little things that will make us successful."

Casting his imprint immediately is crucial to Sutter. The new coach wants to assert his version of hockey rudiments on the squad from the start as the building blocks for team success.

"We want to have good habits from our first day, and that to me is part of forming your identity as a team. The organization wants to get back to being a team that plays well... You're going to have some tough nights, but it can't be because your structure failed or your identity failed," said Sutter

"Everybody does a lot of the same things in the whole league. it's just the ones that do it better (that are successful). We want to be the ones that are being consistent and doing it well."

The strong work ethic exhibited by the coach and his staff was not missed by Pelech, who appreciates Sutter's clear outlaying of expectations from the outset.

"He's a no nonsense coach, and that's the way it's got to be. They've got to let us know firmly what they want us to do and there can't be any lag because it's a like a chain, a weak link will screw the whole thing up. Everyone has got to do their job," said Pelech.

"There should be no grey area. There's a mindset that everyday this is the way we practice and this is the way we do things. It starts in the room and carries out on the ice," agreed Sutter.

"There's work involved with it.  You work hard at practice. Practice is a day at work and you have to show up ready to do it."

Sutter's approach on the ice thus far has been very hands-on, he is pulling, poking, and prodding players into their proper position, has no problem stopping play to reiterate a point or to give another demonstration, and is quick to make players redo improperly executed drills. For Sutter, fundamentals are absolutely essential, and there is only one place for instruction.

"The best teaching is on the ice, that's where you teach the game, that's where you feel most comfortable, is on the ice, so that's where you get the most out of your team."

Once the basics become second nature, Sutter hopes the fundamentals will reinforce all components of play from the backend out, forming the foundation for sound team defence.

"Defensive play isn't only how you play in your own zone. It's what you do with the puck when you have it, working hard as a group together to get it back as soon as you can, keeping scoring chances down."