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One more junior hockey milestone for Brent Sutter before NHL coaching debut

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

He's taking the Canadian junior men's hockey team out for one more spin before he makes his NHL coaching debut with the New Jersey Devils. Sutter had nothing else to prove with Canada's best players under the age of 20 after leading them to back-to-back gold medals at the 2005 and 2006 world junior championships.

His record at the world junior championships is 12-0.

But it was important to him that he coach Canada again in an eight-game series against the Russians commemorating the 35th anniversary of the 1972 Summit Series between Canada and the Soviet Union.

The Super Series opens Monday in Ufa, Russia, and ends Sept. 9 in Vancouver.

"It's different. It's another challenge. It's not world juniors," Sutter explained. "It's an eight-game series against, to me, still the No. 1 rival of our country.

"It's representing something that back 35 years ago I remember very fondly. That really was the first series we took the Canada-Russia rivalry to what it has become over the years. It's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."

The Canadian team was en route to Moscow on Wednesday and will practise there for three days before heading to Ufa.

Sutter will miss the Devils' rookie camp - an eyebrow raiser for a new coach - and will have just three days between the end of the Super Series and the start of New Jersey's main camp.

"I made a commitment to this and when I accepted the New Jersey position, (Devils GM Lou) Lamoriello made it very clear to me he still wanted me to coach this," Sutter said. "We're representing our country and to be able to be the head coach of this he felt was a feather in my hat and a very good experience for myself also.

"I am going to miss rookie camp, but everything is in good hands, let's put it that way."

It was only a matter of time before the NHL reclaimed the 45-year-old from Viking, Alta., a two-time Stanley Cup winner as a player with the Islanders.

Canada overachieved in winning the 2006 world junior championship under Sutter and his name came up in every coaching change in the NHL after that.

But Brent wasn't ready to leave the Red Deer Rebels, the Western Hockey League franchise he has coached, managed and owned since he bought it in 1999, until he felt the team was strong enough on the ice and in the front office to not just operate, but be successful, without him.

When his brother Brian agreed to coach the team in his absence, that clinched it.

"A year ago, I wasn't sure what Brian wanted to do and Brian wasn't sure what he wanted to do," Brent said. "I'm thrilled he decided to choose this option and stay in Red Deer and coach the team and live here at home.

"Everything had to fall into place for it to happen. I don't think there's any good time as far as the family situation is because of their age and what they're doing, but you make the best of it. It wasn't just the timing here, it was the timing in New Jersey too."

New Jersey's conservative style fits Sutter's philosophy as he has stresses defence first.

"I wouldn't have gone in this direction if I didn't feel very comfortable in the surroundings and beliefs of the organization and the direction they want to continue to move in," he said.

Sutter's wife and three children will remain in Red Deer.

His son Brandon, drafted 11th overall by the Carolina Hurricanes, has played for his dad the last two years with the Rebels and will play under him one more time in the Super Series.

Sutter isn't selling the Rebels, but is handing over the day-to-day control of it to others, which is monumental for a man who ran it autocratically.

Even with the Canadian junior team, he didn't follow Hockey Canada's long-established timetable during selection camp, but ran it on his own schedule.

His track record in junior hockey speaks for itself: two world junior gold medals - the first for Canada since 1997 - and a Rebels franchise that was well over .500 during his tenure and which won a Memorial Cup in just the second season after he bought it.

In going to New Jersey, he'll work with another authoritarian in Lamoriello, who isn't afraid to replace his coaches mid-season.

Sutter didn't need to say a word to have the respect of his junior players because of what he'd accomplishedd during a 17-year NHL playing career.

He'd won two Stanley Cups and represented his country in three Canada Cups and a world championship.

Gaining the ear of more jaded NHL players may prove more of a challenge.

"I've been around the game long enough to know that hockey is not a difficult game to play," Sutter said. "It's pretty simple. You just need people committed to doing it.

"You earn respect. I'm not going there like they don't know me. I didn't just fall out of the sky. The New Jersey Devils and Mr. Lamoriello will be the first to tell you, they hired me to be Brent Sutter and be the coach that I am and that's the way I'm going to coach."


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