Monday, December 6, 2004
Sutter shifts from one full-time job to another
By Scott Burnside
Special to ESPN.com
Editor's note: ESPN.com's Scott Burnside tracked down how all 30 coaches are biding their time during the lockout.
Chicago Blackhawks head coach Brian Sutter couldn't come to the phone the first time. He was busy dragging around 1,600 pounds of Black Angus beef on the end of a chain.
"I had four heifers. They're pretty quiet," he explained later. "We're getting ready for a big sale that I'm not normally around for."
Sutter, part of hockey's ubiquitous Sutter clan of Viking, Alberta, figures he's different from about 99 percent of his NHL coaching colleagues in that the offseason for him has always meant shifting full-time jobs instead of recreation or relaxation.
"For years when I played I ran 1,500, 2,000 acres when I came home in the summer," said Sutter, who's been handling the Blackhawks coaching duties since May 2001 and is 12th on the all-time wins list for NHL coaches. "This (the lockout) is no different for me. I miss hockey when I think about it and when I talk to folks like you. But I don't have enough hours in the day with the farm, so I'm not sitting here twiddling my thumbs."
Compared to spring planting and fall harvest, winter is normally the quietest time on the Sutter farm, located just west of Lethbridge, Alberta. But Sutter has 300 to 400 pureblood Black Angus cattle on his farm, and calving season starts in early January, an event Sutter rarely has a chance to be part of.
"I'm excited about staying here and doing that," he said.
Sutter has been up to Edmonton to watch some American Hockey League games and has kept tabs on the Blackhawks' prospects playing in Norfolk, Va., but mostly he's been watching the Red Deer Rebels, the Western Hockey League team coached by his brother Brent, and has tuned in to the AHL coverage on Canadian cable networks.
He's also managed to catch his son Shaun, a 24-year-old right winger for the Fresno Falcons, play in a couple of East Coast Hockey League games.
"He's actually having a heck of a year," Sutter said.
Mike Babcock, Anaheim Mighty Ducks
|Only Brian Sutter would know if communicating with cattle is easier than with NHL officials.|
At least no one will accuse Mike Babcock of stealing jobs after his lockout trip to Europe. Stealing ideas? Well ... maybe. With help from the Ducks' European scouts and European coaching contacts, Babcock will visit teams at various levels in Finland and Sweden later this month to take in practices and morning skates and fill his coaching notebook with pointers and fresh approaches for the new season, whenever that might be.
"If you're standing still, everybody's zooming by you. I believe that one of the gifts of this time is to invest in yourself and to try and get better," Babcock said.
Babcock also spent six days visiting with the team's first pick from 2003, Ryan Getzlaf, who plays for the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. Babcock also managed to get out into the woods for a rare fall hunting trip with his buddies. Instead of looking longingly at hunting magazines during a normal NHL season, the self-described red neck was out with rifle and hunting bow chasing down white tail deer in western Canada and wild boar in Ohio.
"We had lots of luck. Lots of fun and lots of luck," the native of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, said.
With three children under the age of 11, Babcock is also the self-described "king of the carpool."
Along with the usual trips to the rink, the gym and the soccer fields, Babcock and his family have been regular visitors to the Children's Hospital of Orange County and a local soup kitchen where the family helped serve meals to 12,000 people.
Darryl Sutter, Calgary Flames
Darryl Sutter is the only coach/GM in the league, which means even though there is a lockout there isn't time for golfing or farming or home renovations.
From the time the Flames lost Game 7 of last year's Stanley Cup final to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Sutter has been focused on making his team better, watching prospects and preparing for next summer's draft in Ottawa, assuming that's where and when the next one is.
"I've got five junior teams within four hours," said Sutter, who is based in Calgary.
One of those teams is in Red Deer and is coached by his brother Brent. Sutter and his four other brothers, all NHLers of note, recently joined Brent as honorary coaches at an exhibition game between Western Hockey League all-stars and a Russian all-star team. That's as close to a vacation as it gets for Sutter.
The Flames have been rotating their coaching staff through their AHL affiliate in Lowell, Mass., so there's a constant presence there. Whatever the new economic landscape of the league will be, it's a safe bet a lot of current Lockmonsters will be NHL material in the near future, Sutter said.
"That's my focus, making our team better," Sutter said. "My family's been through it before and they understand that. I have a responsibility to the Calgary Flames."
Joel Quenneville, Colorado Avalanche
While the Colorado Avalanche is the only NHL team that forbids its staff to speak publicly during the lockout, hockey is a small community. A friend of new head coach Joel Quenneville said he has recovered nicely from the exhaustion that hospitalized him during the World Championships last spring. Quenneville had been asked to coach Canada's entry in the tournament and was spending long hours preparing for the challenge. As it turns out, the highly-respected coach also suffered a bout of salmonella poisoning that exacerbated his condition.
Quenneville, the most successful coach in Blues history, was hired by the Avalanche on July 7. He takes over for Tony Granato, who will remain as an assistant. Quenneville got his first NHL coaching job with the Quebec Nordiques/Colorado franchise as an assistant before landing the St. Louis job in January 1997.
Gerard Gallant, Columbus Blue Jackets
You can take the boy off the island, but the island will always be part of the boy.
And so it is that we reach Gerard Gallant, head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets, as he makes his way back to Columbus through howling winds and heavy Atlantic snow from his hometown on Canada's smallest province, Prince Edward Island, where he's had a chance to do some scouting and, more important, visit with his mother.
One of 10 children, Gallant began his coaching career in his hometown of Summerside. It's a close community as evidenced by the favor Gallant granted to a local family by dropping off clothing to their son who plays in the neighboring province for the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Acadie-Bathurst Titan, which Gallant was scouting.
Gallant has spent most of the lockout in the friendly confines of his new adopted back yard in Ohio. He and the entire Blue Jackets coaching staff have been involved in coaching seminars, clinics and fantasy camps as a way of maintaining the team's profile.
Both Gallant and assistant coach Gord Murphy have taken advantage of the lockout to coach their respective sons' youth hockey teams. For Gallant, a father of two, it hasn't been all that different than being behind the Blue Jackets' bench, players' ability notwithstanding.
"You hear yourself yelling and blowing the whistle and getting a bit loud with the kids and you have to say, 'whoa!'" Gallant said. "I just tell them not to take it too seriously and have some fun."
Gallant was a Blue Jackets assistant coach for more than four seasons before he took over head coaching duties from GM Doug MacLean, who stepped down with 45 games left in the season. Like other coaches who either inherited teams in midseason or were hired during the offseason, the lockout has stalled what would have been Gallant's first NHL training camp.
"It's been disappointing, but I can honestly say it hasn't been frustrating because I knew it was going to happen." Gallant said. "You try not to think about it every day."
Dave Tippett, Dallas Stars
||You hear yourself yelling and blowing the whistle and getting a bit loud with the kids and you have to say, 'whoa!' I just tell them not to take it too seriously and have some fun. ”
||— Gerard Gallant, Blue Jackets coach
Dave Tippett will remember this lockout for the welcome return of his right arm.
The Dallas Stars coach had major surgery in early September to fuse together two discs in his neck. A degenerative problem had limited him to only 50 percent use of his arm during the last year.
The lockout has allowed Tippett to fully recuperate from the surgery, the third he's had on his neck for what the 11-year NHL veteran describes as "wear and tear." He now has full use of his arm.
"Whatever they did in there it worked. It allowed me to get healthy. I've been able to work out and do some things I haven't been able to do," said Tippett, who is entering his second year as Stars head coach.
Next up, he'd like to test his neck.
"I could deal with some stress right now," said Tippett, who has chauffeured his eldest of two daughters on college scouting trips. "You just feel you should be doing something. You're looking to get rid of some energy."
Dave Lewis, Detroit Red Wings
Not only does Dave Lewis understand the frustration of being a coach with no players to coach but also he understands the frustration of the local businessman whose livelihood has been imperiled by the lockout. Lewis and assistant coach Joe Kocur operate a sports bar in Fenton, Mich., about an hour north of Detroit. Lewis acknowledges that the lack of NHL hockey has put the pinch on business.
When not attending to his business interest, Lewis regularly travels 2½ hours west to Grand Rapids, Mich., where he attends most home games of the Wings' AHL affiliate, the Griffins. He also has helped out with a series of seminars for youth hockey coaches in Michigan and spoken at some charity fund-raising events.
Lewis also lost his mother, who died recently of a heart attack while going for a walk in Lewis's hometown of Kindersley, Saskatchewan.
"It was a bit of a surprise," said Lewis, 51, who spoke to her the day before she died.
With 30 years of experience in the NHL as a player and a coach, Lewis has found the lockout unsettling.
"It is unusual and something inconsistent to my lifestyle," admitted Lewis. "You think you should be doing something. But you wake up in the morning with no real structure."
Lewis will reunite with many of his players on a forthcoming trip to Moscow, where members of the Red Wings family will be gathering to help former center Igor Larionov mark his retirement with a charity/celebrity game. Among the Red Wings expected to take part are Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan, Chris Chelios and Darren McCarty.
"It should be good," said Lewis.
Who knows? Maybe Lewis will get a jump on training camp in Moscow if negotiations work out.
"That would be nice," he said.
Craig MacTavish, Edmonton Oilers
Count Craig MacTavish among the more fortunate of NHL coaches. He doesn't have to adjust his daily routine to watch Oilers' prospects now that their American Hockey League affiliate -- the Edmonton Roadrunners -- have moved into the same arena after a disastrous turn in Toronto last season.
Still, most of MacTavish's rink time has been spent coaching his 10-year-old son.
"I maybe see three games a season normally," MacTavish said. "Now I see three a week."
MacTavish and his staff joined Oilers management on a visit to the oil patch in Fort McMurray, Alberta, about 4½ hours north of Edmonton where the oil industry is booming and the hockey fans rabid.
A father of two boys and a girl, all under the age of 12, MacTavish has embraced a rare chance to hone his domestic skills.
"You end up living the life of a normal person. You're home for dinner, getting the kids ready for school," MacTavish said. "I'm always curious, as well, to see how guys are dealing with it. We're all coaches. We're looking forward to the day we get back to work.
"Did I just say that?"
Andy Murray, Los Angeles Kings
||I'm always curious as well to see how guys are dealing with it. We're all coaches. We're looking forward to the day we get back to work.
Did I just say that?”
||— Craig MacTavish, Edmonton Oilers coach
Instead of worrying about the Los Angeles Kings' power play or injured reserve list, Andy Murray is discussing the disposal of a deceased guppy with his 14-year-old daughter before taking her to the rink for a skate.
When the lockout began, Murray returned to his permanent home in Faribault, Minn., not far from Shattuck St. Mary's, the prestigious prep school where Murray was the hockey coach prior to his appointment as Kings' bench boss. Two of Murray's three children currently play at Shattuck -- Sarah, 16, and Jordan, 14 -- while Brady is a sophomore playing for the Fighting Sioux of North Dakota.
Each day, at about 7 a.m., Murray makes his way to the local coffee shop where he hangs out with the regulars.
"It's kind of like 'Cheers.' There's a group of guys that come there everyday. I'm getting a sense of what goes on when I'm not here," Murray said.
Although it's been refreshing to be able to regularly take in the Shattuck-St. Mary's practices and help out with the driving and finishing up around the family's new home outside of town, Murray said it has left everyone a bit frazzled.
"But I think everybody here is ready for me to go on a road trip," Murray said.
Murray is also a part owner of two hockey teams -- the successful Salmon Arm (B.C.) Silverbacks of the British Columbia Hockey League and the fledgling Santa Fe (N.M.) Roadrunners of the North American Hockey League. His partners in the NAHL franchise include NHL defenseman Rob Blake, forward Glen Murray and retired NHL forward Nelson Emerson, all of whom once played for Andy Murray with the Kings.
"If you're not getting better you're getting worse. I've learned an awful lot being around our coaches in Salmon Arm and in Santa Fe," Murray said. "The time that was really long for me was right after the announcement there wouldn't be a training camp. Through the end of October it was like there was something really missing. By November it was accepting what the situation is and trying to make the best of it."
Jacques Lemaire, Minnesota Wild
If the NHL ever finds itself in need of replacement players, Minnesota Wild head coach Jacques Lemaire will have a good handle on hidden talent among Wild season ticket holders.
Every week or so since the start of the lockout, Lemaire and the Wild coaching staff have taken time off from scouting the team's prospects to hold fantasy camps in the Twin Cities. Participants are put through practices and lectures, and they are then drafted into teams with Lemaire and assistant coach (and former Montreal Canadiens teammate) Mario Tremblay joining one squad and assistant Mike Ramsay and goaltending consultant Bob Mason joining the other.
To date, Lemaire's squad has won twice and lost "four or five" he said.
Is he trying to foster harmony among the coaching staff by taking it easy on the other coaches?
"Maybe," Lemaire said, laughing.
When not on the ice, Lemaire has spent time at his summer home in Florida playing golf with his 29-year-old daughter, who makes her home there, and supervising the building of a new home in the Sarasota area.
Lemaire said the time away from the game has been tiring.
"I go up to my wife and ask, 'What can we do today?' She says, 'Go back to work.' I'm getting to be a pain to her," he said.
Barry Trotz, Nashville Predators
||I go up to my wife and ask, 'What can we do today?' She says, 'Go back to work.' I'm getting to be a pain to her. ”
||— Jacques Lemaire, Minnesota Wild coach
It's not like Barry Trotz's plate isn't full already. The father of four -- two boys and two girls under the age of 14 -- has tried to supplant early feelings of lockout despair with a frenzied schedule that includes charity work, non-stop chauffeuring, a long-awaited family vacation and most recently a turn as a high school hockey coach.
"I think for the first six weeks everybody was feeling a little bit depressed," said Trotz, a native of Manitoba whose family has made its home in Nashville, Tenn.. "When you don't have a date when you're building to something, it's sometimes very hard to stay focused."
Now, Trotz is helping his kids' secondary school launch a hockey program. Although his children don't play, Trotz attends as many practices as he can, helping with the drills and educating players about the broader aspects of the game.
"Sometimes I wonder if I'm helping or hurting," he joked.
His involvement in the local youth hockey community mirrors that of the entire Predators staff.
"Every night you go to the local practice rink and you can see seven or eight of our staff who are involved in local high school hockey programs," Trotz said.
The Predators coaching staff also has designed a series of development programs that includes life skills and hockey skills, which they have presented to their American Hockey League prospects in Milwaukee.
On the home front, Trotz and his family managed to get away for Thanksgiving for the first time "in probably 20 years," traveling to Tennessee's Smoky Mountains.
"It was really relaxing," he said. "We played board games and cards. All of the things you sometimes have to hurry through."
Rick Bowness, Phoenix Coyotes
How does an Eastern Canadian marooned in land-locked Arizona get through an NHL lockout? If you're Rick Bowness, head coach of the Phoenix Coyotes, you stay as close to whatever ice there is, and when there's a break in the action, you take your wife to see Canadian chanteuse Celine Dion.
"I've tried to stay as close as possible to a hockey frame of mind," Bowness said.
The Utah Grizzlies, the Coyotes' AHL affiliate, held part of their training camp in Phoenix and Bowness has made himself available to friends who run youth hockey programs in the Phoenix area.
Working for Wayne Gretzky helps keep hockey at the forefront, which was the case during the "99 Hours of Hockey" program and fund-raising event held by the team in November.
"I played in the alumni game and helped with coaching seminars," said Bowness, a former head coach in four other NHL cities who is approaching his 22nd year of coaching at the professional level.
Bowness and his wife, Judy, have three university-aged children, one of whom is playing university hockey in Bowness's home province of Nova Scotia. One trip away from hockey and Arizona was to see Dion's act in Las Vegas, a birthday present for his wife
Bowness also stays in "a hockey frame of mind" by keeping in contact with Shane Doan, who keeps him abreast of the comings and goings of a Coyotes roster that was dramatically revamped during the offseason.
"We're all creatures of habit and we've been off since last April 5. It's tough," he said. "Normally, we wake up every morning with a purpose and go to bed every night with a plan. It's been hard to fill the time."
Mike Kitchen, St. Louis Blues
If ever there was a time designed for putterers, this lockout is it. And luckily for Mike Kitchen, waiting on his first training camp as head coach of the St. Louis Blues, he's a very good putterer.
Kitchen and the Blues coaching staff initially passed time by helping the team's AHL affiliate in Worcester, Mass., conduct its training camp. Kitchen and his staff came up with themed days (i.e. defensive zone play, special teams, breakouts) and then ended each day with scrimmages complete with shootouts, as per AHL rules.
"It was really educational for the coaches, especially for me," said Kitchen who took over the Blues' head coaching duties from his good friend Joel Quenneville with 21 games left in the 2003-04 regular season.
"The hard thing is you finally get the opportunity to be a head coach and you don't have a team to coach. This week I said to my wife, I just can't believe it, (the lockout) just seems like a real dream. I'm trying to find a word for it. The whole scenario just doesn't seem right," Kitchen said.
Shortly after Worcester camp broke Kitchen returned to his home in Aurora, Ontario, an hour north of Toronto not far from where he grew up. There he set about watching junior games, keeping tabs on his two daughters who attend university about an hour west of Toronto in St. Catharines and puttering.
"I can putter with the best of people," he said. "I love construction. I'm happy whenever I'm building something or making something. That long 'honey do' list we all have? I've knocked about 2/3 off that."
When Kitchen moved to St. Louis seven years ago as an assistant with the Blues, his wife stayed at home until their daughters finished high school and forged her own schedule during the hockey season. No longer.
"When I'm home all the time now I just kind of screw up her schedule," Kitchen said.
Ron Wilson, San Jose Sharks
||That long 'honey do' list we all have? I've knocked about 2/3 off that. ”
||— Mike Kitchen, St. Louis Blues coach
Ron Wilson is constructing a model train set he hopes will circumnavigate the family Christmas tree on Hilton Head Island, S.C.
"I've gotten into doing the decorating. I want my house to look like it did when I was a little kid," the head coach of the San Jose Sharks said.
Wilson also hopes the train set produces the same kind of karma it has in the past. A gift from his two daughters four or five years ago, Wilson finally managed to assemble the set two years ago. The first day it was up and running in December 2002, he was hired as coach of the Sharks.
"I ran it for about an hour. Maybe that's the karma we need. If I spend all that time putting it together something will happen (with the lockout) and I'll have to go back to work," said Wilson, who oversaw a remarkable turnaround in San Jose where the Sharks went from last in the Pacific Division two years ago to a berth in the Western Conference final last spring.
To help pass the time, Wilson's youngest daughter, Kristen, 24, recently treated him to his first NCAA football games, one in South Carolina and another in The Swamp in Gainesville, Fla.
"She sees I'm pulling my hair out a bit and says let's go on a road trip. Fortunately, we had the World Cup or I'd be insane right now," said Wilson, head coach of the U.S. entry in the September tournament.
A meticulous organizer, Wilson already has mapped out a shortened training camp schedule, if there is a resolution to the lockout, and has next fall's training camp schedule ready to go should it come to that. He has seen many of the Sharks' prospects play including his nephew Brian, a Shark draft pick of a year ago.
Wilson's lockout agenda also has been tinged with sadness, as he was recently a pallbearer at the funeral of his high school hockey coach, Joe Sprague Sr., who died of cancer at the age of 73.
"He was kind of like a father-figure to me after my father passed away," Wilson said.
Last summer, Wilson took Sprague to the NHL Awards Show as his guest. Even then, introducing his former guidance counselor and coach to the NHL's elite, Wilson couldn't help but introduce him as Mr. Sprague.
"I learned a lot from him, and I'm going to miss him," Wilson said.
Marc Crawford, Vancouver Canucks
The NHL lockout has given Marc Crawford a rare chance to see hockey at the grassroots level and hear what fans at that level of the game have to say.
Crawford was a regular participant in a coaching caravan sponsored by the Canucks, which featured town hall style meetings and clinics in seven or eight centers throughout British Columbia. Crawford and his staff offered ideas on how to make practices fun and organized. In turn, players, coaches and parents asked questions that have given the big-league coaches food for thought about a range of issues.
"It runs the gamut. It kinds of goes where the people want it to go. You're gaining their insight into the game," Crawford said.
The Canucks' coaching staff also visited with the coaching staff of the B.C. Lions, the top-ranked Canadian Football League team that recently lost the Grey Cup game to Toronto.
Crawford also is spending time down at the rink watching his 14-year-old son play and at the gym watching his 11-year-old daughter play volleyball and basketball. He's also spending more time in the kitchen.
"I'm doing a lot more of the helping out right now. I've become very good at cleaning wine glasses. What does that tell you?" Crawford said. "We're not bored, but we are anxious and we're all a little bit antsy right now. In some ways you crave that busy lifestyle."
Scott Burnside is a freelance writer based in Atlanta and is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.