While countless National Hockey League executives search to try to fill the void of a locked out 2004-05 season, Calgary Flames Head Coach and General Manager Darryl Sutter is taking to the road, looking to fill boxes.
Boxes, you ask?
No, the Viking, Alberta native isn’t packing, and certainly has no plans of leaving Calgary in the near future. Boxes, as explained by the Flames boss, simply refers to gaps in the Calgary organization.
“You’re looking to fill holes, or ‘boxes’ as our organization calls it,” described Sutter while taking some time out of his schedule to be honoured in Lethbridge, Alberta last Thursday at the ADT CHL Canada/Russia Challenge.
As he searches to fill these boxes, a full suitcase seems to be involved as well.
“I’ve been all over the country,” said Sutter who played his junior hockey some two decades ago with the Lethbridge Broncos of the then WCHL. Darryl was one of six Sutter brothers who served as honorary guests for the event.
And while Sutter is out on the road scouting potential Flame prospects and checking up on youngsters already preparing to don the flaming ‘C’ for the Southern Alberta franchise, he’s noticing his own back yard is an excellent place to start.
“We’ve got the liberty and the luxury of having five teams within four hours, counting Calgary,” Sutter explained. “Obviously, me myself, and my brother Ronnie do a lot of the scouting out of Calgary, so it’s logical and makes sense that there’s probably a higher percentage chance that we’ll be taking guys from the Western League.”
The results have certainly shown that. Through the two National Hockey League Entry Drafts that he has been in charge, Sutter & Co. have selected a total of eight players, including three in 2003, and five in 2004.
While this may seem as an intentional move or bias towards Western League players, Sutter insists that while the attention that players in the WHL receive may be greater, by no means does it guarantee a look from the Calgary Flames.
“It really doesn’t matter to me where they’re from, it’s what’s under their shirt,” voiced Sutter, pounding on his heart.
“The first thing we try to identify is the passion a player has. I think that kind of determines whether or not they become an NHLer. A lot of these guys go on to play pro, but I’m not really interested in guys who just want to play pro, I’m interested in guys who want to become top NHLers.”
It wasn’t long after Sutter spoke those words that two names followed; Red Deer Rebels defenseman and Calgary’s first round selection in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft Dion Phaneuf, and Moose Jaw Warrior forward Dustin Boyd, selected in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
“We’ve got two boys in this game that are evident of that,” noted Sutter, one of few remaining personnel attempting the duel role of Head Coach and General Manager. “Phaneuf who was a high pick on ’03 and Boyd who was a third round selection in ’04.”
Sutter is quick to credit the dedication and character of each prospect to the environment they are playing in. While each player is playing in entirely different situations and cities, Sutter credits the Western Hockey League as a whole as a great place for developing prospects.
“I think that that’s partly because of the league they’re playing in,” explained Sutter in response to the character displayed on the ice by both Boyd and Phaneuf.
“First of all, it’s not an easy league to come into as a 16 or 17-year-old and travel on the bus, trying to get your high school and get your education, be a productive player and do interviews with NHL teams.”
“It’s not easy for them, so anytime you feel that way about a player or person, it’s to their advantage.”
The 6’3, 208lb Phaneuf has shown great growth in his three seasons with the Red Deer Rebels. In his fourth season with the Rebels, Phaneuf currently sits second in goals scored by a defenseman with 11, despite missing nearly 10 games with an injury. More importantly to Phaneuf, his Red Deer Rebels sit only four points back of the Medicine Hat Tigers for second place in the WHL’s difficult Central Division.
Boyd, a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors, has seen his production increase significantly over his 2003-04 season, but hasn’t enjoyed the team success the Warriors club achieved last year. Moose Jaw, easily the WHL’s worst franchise, has but three wins in 32 games. Two of those wins, though, have come in the last week, after Boyd’s participation in the ADT CHL Canada/Russia Challenge.
Boyd in fact said he hoped to relay a 5-2 victory over the Russian Selects in Lethbridge into more success with his Western League team.
“The win tonight was as many as I’ve had all year in Moose Jaw,” said Boyd last week. “Just getting that winning feeling back, feeling good about yourself is a huge confidence booster. Hopefully it rubs on a few of the guys.”
Since that statement, the Warriors have played .500 hockey, winning two of four contests, including a 5-4 victory over fellow Flames prospect Aki Seitsonen and the Prince Albert Raiders, as well as a 6-3 drubbing of the Regina Pats.
It’s just more of the winning attitude that Darryl Sutter hopes to see in his players.
Copyright 2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.