Blood splattered across his face from a nose so badly banged up it brought tears to his eyes, Mike Commodore tried his best to get back into the play.
Visually impaired and in a great deal of pain thanks to a Patrick Marleau shove into the dasher, the Calgary Flames defender did his best to help thwart a San Jose scoring chance before scampering back to the bench.
It was there he was soon greeted by Darryl Sutter, who took time during an intense 2004 playoff moment to bluntly question the 23-year-old’s manhood.
"I was so pissed," said Commodore.
"I turned around as I’m wiping tears from my eyes and blood is pouring all over me and before I say something I realize what he’s trying to do. I thought, ‘I’ll show you.’"
I’ll show you.
It’s exactly the response Sutter has been brought back to Calgary to elicit from a group of underachieving Flames.
Although armed with a legendary ability to push all the right buttons on players over parts of four decades, the 62-year-old Sutter replaces Geoff Ward with a litany of questions surrounding what comes next.
Who better than a handful of his former Flames players to try answering them?
Eleven years after losing a Stanley Cup Final alongside Sutter in Calgary, Robyn Regehr won one with the coach in Los Angeles. He said the coach softened a touch over the years but succeeded with the same building blocks and beliefs he had in Calgary.
Andrew Ference credits Sutter with teaching him what it took to stay in the league as long as he did, while Rhett Warrener believes Sutter’s ability to define roles and expectations for players is second to none.
Matt Stajan was acquired from Toronto when Sutter was the Flames GM and saw that by connecting with players, he could better understand how to help raise their games.
All five believe the Flames thrived under Sutter’s coaching for two-and-a-half years because of his approach and ability to read people, which leads to the obvious first question ahead of Thursday night’s debut…
Will this work?
Warrener: "I think it can. The biggest criticism of the team is inconsistency and lack of compete, and that’s kind of his M.O. The pieces of this team look like they should be adding up to more and he can bring them together."
Stajan: "I think it makes sense. The team needs a spark. I think Darryl is a guy who can bring the best out of the players and that’s what this team needs right now. Unfortunately for Geoff Ward the way it was trending meant that if you were bringing someone else in, Darryl was the perfect guy."
Commodore: "Honestly, I do think it can work. I think it could be hard on a couple guys.
It’s going to be fascinating to watch. I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he comes into the room and starts pushing buttons because he doesn’t care who you are. It will test some personalities."
Regehr: "It will be entertaining! In my opinion, the current team is comfortable right now. They’ve said the right things and they’re comfortable underperforming. A guy like Darryl will not stand for that. He’s going to push all the buttons he can to make it uncomfortable for them to be like that. He comes from the most competitive family I’ve ever seen in my life. Those brothers learned to compete for everything, from the last baked potato to games in the barn.
He loves to win and if you don’t get on the bus with what he’s trying to do he’s going to make your life difficult."
Will his approach have to change with today’s athletes?
Warrener: "I don’t think so. Everyone talks about today’s players, but they still want clear pictures – they don’t want to read the tea leaves to know where they stand. Darryl is hard on guys and there are things he recognizes he can’t say anymore. I think winning gives you clarity on how hard you can go. You win and you have a little more confidence and clarity."
Ference: "The game has changed, but at the core of it his biggest strength is his ability to muster the absolute best of everybody on a consistent basis. He taught us how to be pros and ultra-consistent. Styles and generations change but figuring guys out and pushing their buttons and making them accountable doesn’t go out of style."
Can he restore the team’s hard-hitting identity?
Regehr: "What I’m excited about is this team having an identity again. The team I’ve watched the last couple years, I couldn’t tell you what the identity of the Flames was. That’s something he really harps on, to be a hard team to play against, to be tough at home or a top-five penalty kill – whatever they put out. As soon as a visiting team knows they’re going to get run out of the rink in the first period and that it’s not going to be an easy game, that’s when you have an identity."
Warrener: "I think the identity will be there and I think the guys here can play that – the playoff last year gave us a glimpse of that. If you’re seeing hitting at least that speaks to the commitment the guys are making. I don’t think it’s the Legion of Doom, but playing with that commitment, everyone sees that and buys in. If you watched that game Saturday, was there an identity there? You bet, and he wasn’t even in the building."
Who might struggle?
Regehr: "What I found is that players who were selfish, who were only interested in themselves and how many points they got in a 4-1 loss, that type of player is going to be in trouble. The player who uses the creative side of the brain more, who can sometimes seem aloof has a little more difficult time under a coach like Darryl. I think Gaudreau and Monahan are going to be very intriguing to watch. How they handle it. I would think most people would think of Johnny right away – smaller and more skilled and more on the outside. Sean Monahan is a big centreman and I would argue that maybe he hasn’t been able to elevate his game when needed. Maybe Darryl can push some buttons there and help him find another level."
Commodore: "If it was a country club in there before it won’t be anymore. Things are about to get a lot harder in that room and that’s a good thing. If you work, Darryl is going to like you."
What if he’s unable to help them make the playoffs this year?
Stajan: "You make this change and see what you can get out of this group. There have been lots of coaches here and everyone knows what he brings. He’s a good evaluator too, so I think he’ll have a good idea of what the pulse is of each player and if you could win with them. I think that’s how you move forward."
What do you most look forward to?
Regehr: "The thing I’m looking forward to the most are the little press clips he gives – the dry wit and whatever else he would throw in there."