June 23, 2009 will be a day both Brent Sutter and Devils fans will never forget.
The Calgary Flames coach, who led New Jersey to two straight playoff appearances, stepped down as head coach of the Devils, citing his desire to be closer to his family. That announcement followed a stunning Eastern Conference quarterfinals loss for New Jersey.
Only two weeks later, fans would find themselves watching as the Flames announced Sutter as their new head coach. The backlash was understandable, as fans and players felt the coach duped them to work for his brother. Sutter insists that leaving the Devils for Calgary wasn’t a planned move.
“Strictly put, I resigned here because of all the right reasons and if I wasn’t going to be coaching in Calgary, which was an opportunity because Lou gave them permission to talk to me, I wouldn’t have coached last year,” Sutter told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “I went home for the right reasons. I went home because it was the right thing to do because there are things bigger than the team. I made that decision based on that.”
Sutter headlines a matchup between two struggling teams as the Flames (8-11-1) face off against the Devils (6-13-2) tonight at the Prudential Center. Both teams have failed to live up to expectations and sit 14th in their respective conferences. Sutter isn’t focused on the homecoming; rather he’d like to straighten his team out.
“I look at it (tonight’s game) strictly by the fact that we need to start winning some hockey games and we want to see results from the hard work and determination that the guys have been putting in to get this to how we want to play, how hard we’ve worked on our culture,” Sutter said to Gulitti. “You want to see results on the ice. It’s not just for me. It’s a reward for the hard work that everyone has put into it.”
The Devils face their former coach fresh off their second home win of the season, a 5-0 drubbing of the Washington Capitals Monday night. Before the game, the Devils showed a video tribute to former coach Pat Burns, who died of cancer Friday. Those emotions carried over into the game, which the Devils used to put together their best game of the season. Patrik Elias, Jason Arnott and Mattias Tedenby scored first period goals to put the Devils ahead, 3-0. They wouldn’t look back, tallying two more in the first ten minutes of the middle period to take a 5-0 lead. Johan Hedberg finished with 30 saves for his 15th career shutout.
The Devils have struggled to string wins together this season. In games after a win, the Devils are 0-5-0 and were outscored, 18-4. With the season getting later, the Devils understand the need to turn that trend around.
“A winning streak would get two in a row,” MacLean said after yesterday’s practice. “The psyche would be good if we got two in a row. Last night was a good win. I thought everybody contributed. We’ll try to get some wins to get back into it, but we have to win tomorrow night.”
“That’s going to be the key, if we can build off this,” center Travis Zajac said. “We need to get better to win hockey games. That’s our only motivation right now—winning.”
In the end, Sutter will approach this game like any other.
“It’s irrelevant to me,” he said to Gulitti. “I don’t get caught up in that because people don’t know. People didn’t know my situation. People didn’t know the discussions that Lou (Lamoriello) and I had leading into me coming here in the first place.”