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Sutter: League Doesn't Want Flames to Win

June 03, 2004|Chris Foster | Times Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. — Calgary Flame Coach Darryl Sutter, having lost forward Ville Nieminen to a one-game suspension, insinuated that NHL officials are trying to make it difficult for his team to win the Stanley Cup.

Nieminen will not play against Tampa Bay in Game 5 tonight for having slammed Vincent Lecavalier into the glass during Game 4 on Monday.

Sutter, speaking at a news conference Wednesday, was ready to indulge in conspiracy theories.

"We're the little team that wasn't supposed to be here," Sutter said, "and a lot of people don't want us to be here and to make sure that we're not successful. We know that."

Sutter said the decision to suspend Nieminen was "not made in Toronto, but New York." The NHL has offices in both cities, but Colin Campbell, who metes out suspensions as the NHL's director of hockey operations, is based in Toronto.

Asked to clarify who he was saying was trying to prevent the Flames from having success, Sutter said, "Next question. I already answered that."

Pressed, he said, "It's none of your business."

Sutter then refused to allow interviews with Flame players.

"Mr. Sutter's comments were ill-advised, inappropriate and inaccurate," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "The focus of the Stanley Cup finals should be on the ice, and to the extent any response is needed to any gamesmanship off the ice, it will be made after the final is over."

Nieminen slammed Lecavalier into the glass during the Lightning's 1-0 victory Monday, opening a cut on his head. Lecavalier remained in the game and he is expected to play tonight. Nieminen received a five-minute major for boarding and a misconduct penalty.

"The hit by Nieminen was a forearm directly to the back of the head, causing Lecavalier's head to hit the glass," Campbell said. "It was one of those hits where our antennas were raised."

Lecavalier had no comment on the suspension.

This is Nieminen's second suspension of the playoffs. He missed a second-round game against Detroit from running into Red Wing goaltender Curtis Joseph.

Asked if Nieminen's absence would affect his lineup, Sutter said, "one less Finn, fewer vowels," but he insisted there was a bigger issue.

"We have lost three players total to injuries that there was a total of two minutes called, that's as far as it went," he said. "So fine, we know what we're up against. We're the underdog. We've said that."

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