Drew Doughty learned the hard way that there are no down moments when Darryl Sutter is around. Two concepts that are imperative for Sutter are intensity and preparation, and if he senses that either one is waning in his players, watch out. That was reinforced to Doughty during a game last month.
“The one playoff game we lost to Vancouver, I went in, between periods, to grab a drink and we had our TVs on in there,’’ Doughty said. “I just grabbed my drink and took a peek at the TV, and he happened to catch me in there when I was looking at the TV. I got in trouble for that, and he yelled at me, so I made sure not to go in there anymore.’’
Was Sutter joking around at all? Being sarcastic?
“No, he was serious,’’ Doughty said. “I think we were losing the game at that time. So, yeah, he makes sure that our total focus is on our next shift.’’
The Kings’ midseason coaching change, from Terry Murray to Sutter, was major. Shortly after the change, I did a radio interview in which the host suggested that the impact would be minimal, insinuating that Murray and Sutter were two sides of the same coin. Not even in the slightest bit. Murray was even-keel, patient and professorial. Sutter is quietly intense, always on the move, always looking to talk and motivate and push buttons. His engine never seems to stop. If a team does indeed take on the attitude of its coach, the Kings under Sutter are higher-octane, not just in the way they play the game but in the way they approach it. Two of the team leaders, captain Dustin Brown and alternate captain Matt Greene, and Doughty talked today about what Sutter has brought to the Kings.
BROWN: “He pushes the right buttons. I think one problem we had as a team was, before he got here, was getting emotionally attached to games. He brought that emotional level up. You can do all the Xs and Os right, but if you’re not emotionally attached, it’s really hard to win in this league. And he’s brought attention to that. Again, that comes with pushing guys and patting guys on the back at the right time. … It’s maybe a little cliche, but everybody is equal in that room. Whether you’re a superstar or a role player, you’re expected to, within your role, do the same things. Obviously there’s responsibilities that differ, based on skill level and where you’re playing in the lineup, but it when it comes to the so-called little things in the game, everyone is responsible for making the right play. He plays no favorites.’’
GREENE: “Darryl brings a different style of coaching. It’s definitely more intensity, more in-your-face attitude. I think that’s what a lot of guys needed in here, was kind of somebody to be on them and to ride a little harder than Terry did, and he’s gotten results. … I think Terry held guys accountable, but it’s just a different way of getting it across. They’re pretty much polar opposites. Terry would kind of let you go about your business and figure it out for yourself. Darryl makes sure you know exactly what he’s thinking.’’
DOUGHTY: “He’s hard on you. He’s huge on preparation. He’s making sure that we’re all ready for the game, whether it’s the day before the game, or right before we step on the ice, he’s making sure that we’re into it. He has ways of doing it, that, it just works. He’s so hard on you, it’s almost scary to not be ready. If he catches you off-guard or something like that, you’re going to be in trouble. So he does a great job with that. I think that’s a huge part of why our success is like this right now.’’
This is not to say that Sutter is running a dictatorship. The same players who talk about Sutter’s intensity are the same ones who talk about his sense of humor, how he can cut up the team in a meeting with a sarcastic joke, how he tried to pull an April Fool’s Day joke on the players.
“He’s great on both ends,’’ Doughty said. “He likes to have fun at the right times, but for the most part, he’s serious and wants you to be well-prepared.’’
Brown said, “He jokes around, but he’s one of those guys who can flip it around and be pretty serious, pretty quickly. I think he times his so-called jokes pretty well. [grins] It’s a good balance. I think he likes to have fun when he comes to the rink, but at the same time, he’s getting us ready to go.’’
As for Sutter himself, not surprisingly he deflected much of the talk about his impact on the Kings. Sutter is a former player, a former team captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, and in many ways he retains the mindset of a player while he coaches. As Brown pointed out, Sutter is a big believer is being not only physically prepared to play, but mentally focused.
SUTTER: “I think it’s a big part of the game, is the emotional part. They’re not machines. There’s a way to draw that out. It comes from the leadership group, more than anything. If they can find that in themselves, then they pull guys along with them. … I think, the teams that have success, that’s the biggest reason why. The top players do that. It doesn’t matter if it’s regular season or playoffs.’’
By all accounts, Sutter’s message has gotten through to the Kings. It took a little while, in part because of auditory difficulties. Sutter’s voice is a low rumble, and he’s sometimes prone to bursts of words, rather than complete sentences. The transition from the professor to the farmer took a while, and the first few practices were rough.
BROWN: “We didn’t even go to the board once (to diagram drills). The first couple weeks, there were a lot of practices where we didn’t know what the hell we were doing. … The first few weeks, it was hard to understand. Now, he barely needs to say anything to get through practice. Everyone knows what we’re doing. He communicates pretty well for us.’’
DOUGHTY: “I couldn’t understand anything he was saying when he first got here. I always made sure, when drills were happening, to be at the back of the line. But now that he’s been here for a while, it’s pretty easy to understand him now.’’
And while Sutter is certainly intense, he’s not a monster. The worst fears of the players, that Sutter would scream at them and berate them on a daily basis, have been unfounded. He’s certainly prone to a tirade in practice now and then, when drills aren’t going well, but that’s the same for every coach. Sutter isn’t shy about challenging players, both 1-on-1 and as a team, and his criticism can be sharp, but Sutter said it’s rooted in his desire to be honest with players. Asked to identify people from his past who made an impact, Sutter named coaches Joe Crozier, Bob Pulford and Roger Neilson and former teammate Keith Magnuson.
SUTTER: “That’s a misconception, that guys yell or holler. The only time you yell or holler is because the crowd is loud. I don’t really get it. How could anybody get a point across by yelling or hollering? I think that’s a dinosaur. The best coaches that I’ve played for, the best coaches that I’ve worked with, aren’t. They’re straight up and they’re straight shooters, and they look at you and they tell you the truth. A lot of times, what’s best for the individual is not what’s best for the team. You have to be able to manage that.’’