Sutter’s mockery of Pelletier’s debut wasn’t just bad leadership – it lacked human decency

Rasmus Andersson and Noah Hanifin each had three-point nights as the Calgary Flames handled the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-3 in a chippy affair.

CALGARY – The kid just lived out a dream.

He did it in front of his family and a national TV audience tuned in as part of a Hockey Day in Canada marathon aimed at celebrating the game.

Yet, at the tail end of a wildly entertaining and complete effort by his Flames, Darryl Sutter just couldn’t resist pouring a bucket of water over all of it.

Asked about Jakob Pelletier’s NHL debut, Coach Buzzkill decided to put on a show. 

“Jakob Pelletier,” he repeated while putting on his glasses and grabbing the game sheet.

“What number is he?”

He then proceeded to read out all of No. 49’s stats, which included just under seven minutes of ice time, 43 seconds of it on the powerplay, one shot on goal and one hit.

No smile, no acknowledgement of how special it must have been and no cursory congratulation.

“It’s the NHL,” he spat.

“21 years old. Long ways to go.”

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This is how you treat a first-round pick?

This is how a leader behaves when asked a simple question about a respectful young man who has done everything the Flames have asked since being drafted 26th overall in 2019?

There’s tough love and then there’s human decency.

Sutter just can’t bring himself to buy into the city’s excitement over a young prospect who was on the AHL’s all rookie team last season and was called up two weeks ago as one of the loop’s leading scorers.

It seems to bother the coach that Pelletier’s two-week stint as a healthy scratch has been the talk of the town. 

The more fans who want him to get a simple chance, the more defiant Sutter has grown.   

Having shown endless disdain and frustration with storylines surrounding Pelletier (and Matthew Phillips weeks earlier), it was hardly a coincidence Sutter chose to send associate coach Kirk Muller to answer the anticipated questions a day earlier when Pelletier practiced on the fourth line.

We get it – youngsters need to earn their way.

Sutter has been on record several times, warning fans of how hard it will be for undersized youngsters to find their way in today’s NHL, no matter how talented they may be.

He also believes in being honest with players.

Fair enough.

But what good does it do to diminish an otherwise joyous afternoon for the 5-foot-9, 160-pound winger by making a mockery of the day’s feel-good story?

A little over a week earlier Sutter saluted Walker Duehr’s first NHL goal (in his third NHL game), talking about how “awesome” it was the 25-year-old did it “the right way” by putting in four years of college, followed by time in the AHL.

Pelletier has played two more AHL games than Duehr.

But for this one, there was too much hype for Sutter’s liking – too much criticism he’s faced over not doing it sooner.

A family day crowd full of wide-eyed children that showed up early to cheer on his rookie lap were the same ones who delighted in seeing Pelletier get a great chance early with a rebound gobbled up by Hall of Famer Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Cool stuff.

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“It was a great play by Duehy and it came off hard and I was like, ‘whoa,’” beamed Pelletier, whose time on the fourth unit alongside Duehr and Trevor Lewis was diminished by the parade of penalties in a heated, 6-3 win over Tampa.

“I tried to shoot and hopefully score, but I think it’s going to go in next game.”

Southern Alberta hopes there is a next game for Pelletier, which is very much in question given the coach. 

“It’s a dream come true since I’ve been four or five – the main goal is to play in the NHL and tonight was the first one, so it’s great,” said the Quebec native, who was afforded an unusually long rookie lap he joked about a day earlier, hoping he wouldn’t fall. 

“When I came out for warm up I was kind of stressed, and the first shift too.

“But after the first one I was like, ‘it’s just playing hockey, right?’”

You can only imagine the pride he took in calling his parents with news of his debut late Friday, prompting them to jump on a 10 p.m. flight from Montreal, arriving at 3 a.m. Saturday morning for their afternoon delight.

“My mom and dad cried,” said the junior star of the phone call.

“They support me since I’m young and just to play in the NHL in front of them is great.

“I haven’t seen them in a long time, and it’s good to see them, and for us to enjoy this moment together.”

A moment only Sutter would dare sully.

Sutter further embarrassed himself when asked about passing beloved “Badger” Bob Johnson as the winningest coach in Flames lore.

“It’s not hard to pass somebody – all you need to be is good,” said Sutter. 

Humility is not his strength. 

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Dillon Dube, who understands how special an afternoon like Pelletier’s was, praised the youngster’s line for using its speed to create a few early scoring chances.    

“Honestly, I think they got us going,” said Dube, whose club put together perhaps its finest effort of the season. 

“I’m super happy for him to play at home on a Saturday against a team that has won a lot. I think it’s a pretty special night for sure. His parents got to fly in and watch. It gives everyone in here motivation to try to win for him.

“Everyone is super excited for him.”

Well, almost everyone.

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