CALGARY — Thirty-five minutes into Darryl Sutter 2.0, the Flames coach had the boys bag skating.
Not much of a shocker there, especially for a team that deserves some tough love.
But then came the twist.
It ended. Quickly.
After just three hard churns up and down the ice for his hemorrhaging Flames squad, Sutter concluded practice with one last chat followed by stretching.
The “bag skate” was just three minutes long, shorter than some Connor McDavid shifts.
All told, Sutter’s first practice lasted 40 minutes, kickstarting a furious round of betting from the media above.
As players broke into post-practice shooting drills, everyone wondered if this was one of Sutter’s tests.
Would being the first player off be detrimental to a lad’s fate?
No one wanted to test it.
Meanwhile, Sutter slowly meandered around the neutral zone as if he was at a cocktail party, stopping various players for quick chats, building relationships he deems to be the basis of his coaching success.
When asked if he started wondering how long the conditioning portion of the morning session would last, Tkachuk chuckled.
"He said, 'we're going to do three reps here each,'” smiled Tkachuk, who appreciated the heads up.
“A little part of me thought we might've gone a few more, but he seems like a man of his word. Once he said three, we were just doing three. At the same time we need that. We're not happy with where we are. We need to play faster. We need to be better for a full 60. From what I remember at the end, his message was ‘that's how our first three shifts should feel out there - wingers protecting the walls, centermen protecting the middle of the ice and the D-men protecting the middle of the ice as well. Even though it was a little bit of a skate, there was a good message there."
Curious observers looked for all sorts of messages in Sutter’s on-ice debut, including line combinations and structural changes.
With all eyes on just how he’ll try squeezing more out of Gaudreau and Monahan, few were surprised big Brett Ritchie was skating with them.
“The lines part of it, that's a moving target, doesn't matter where you go," said Sutter, who let assistant Ryan Huska run the practice while he observed and shared a few messages to supplement points made in his earlier meetings.
“I think this is a game-to-game thing until we get everything in order in terms of playing the right way and everybody playing together.”
Having watched the Flames play all season from his farmhouse in Viking, the 62-year-old coach reiterated he’s only planning to make a few minor tweaks to the team’s system and structure.
“The system is fine – that’s not an issue,” said Sutter, conceding that with 30 games left his sixth-placed team doesn’t have time to overhaul much.
“It's the execution within it and there's two or three things, areas in there, that I think I can help the guys with and they'll be good at it.”
Sutter said the short but spirited practice is his way of mimicking games, getting players’ heart rates up and down and executing at the highest pace.
“Definitely the best practice we've had in a while,” said Chris Tanev, citing the tempo and intensity.
“Obviously Darryl, he's a proven winner. He knows the game. He's obviously respected by everyone in the hockey community. We've just got to come in and work hard every day and do our jobs. That's basically what he stressed to us. Coach stressed playing faster. That's something we have to be better at. It started today."
Sutter said he didn’t find it odd to watch both weekend losses from home, as he has twice previously joined clubs several days after being hired.
"The game in Edmonton, the first period that I watched was the best period of hockey of any team I've seen play this year,” said Sutter, whose club hosts Montreal on Thursday.
“That first period was an awesome first period to watch and anybody that's a pure hockey fan, you'd go, 'Oh, that's a good period.' And then obviously the rush goals against in the third were the difference in the game, and our inability to finish and create scoring chances to get more than a one-goal lead was the difference in that game. The game against Ottawa back here, I thought our power play in the first period stalled us right out and even if Ottawa hadn't scored, it gave them the momentum. I think the third period we showed we were resilient and got back into it, and a lot of that was we had some young guys that don't get a lot of credit who stepped up and I wouldn't say took charge, but they allowed our team to play in the offensive zone."
He said the goal on Day 1 was defining roles and goals.
"I wanted to be sure we were clear on what we were trying to do,” said Sutter, who coached the Flames for two-and-a-half seasons before becoming the Flames GM until 2010.
“Everybody was in early and we had a good meeting and went over as much as we could without overloading them. And then go out on the ice and get to work and it was a good vibe, a good feeling. It was good to be in there and it's nice to be back in the locker room again. It's good to have the flaming C back on again. To come back into the Saddledome is special."