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Kings' coach Darryl Sutter watches the play on ice in the second period at HP Pavilion in San Jose, California on Friday, December 23, 2011. The San Jose Sharks beat the L.A. Kings, 2-1, in a shootout. (Photo by Jim Gensheimer/Mercury News)

SAN JOSE -- The Los Angeles Kings play the Sharks for the first time this season Thursday night at HP Pavilion. Which means that Darryl Sutter is back at his old workplace.

It is hardly the first time that Sutter has revisited San Jose since he was fired as the Sharks' head coach in December 2002. He returned often as the Calgary Flames' head coach and was here twice last season after taking over the Kings in late December.

The difference this time: Sutter is returning to HP Pavilion as a Stanley Cup champion.

Not that you'd know it from looking at him. Wednesday after the Kings' practice session here, he wasn't wearing a championship ring. Hasn't worn it. Won't wear it.

"I'm not a jewelry guy," he explained. "The rings really are beautiful. But I don't need to wear one. It's not a big thing to me. What is it they say about big jewelry? It either winds up in the estate or winds up in the alimony."

So in case you're wondering whether success has changed Darryl Sutter, there's your answer: No. With the standard Alberta accent.

For Sharks fans, it was a wretched moment when the Kings won their NHL championship last June. But if anyone in San Jose was truly angry to see Sutter personally hoist the Cup with a big smile on the face ... well, I have yet to meet the person.

The fans here know Sutter. They know what he did for the Sharks. Basically, he taught San Jose how to be a serious hockey town. He arrived in 1997 when the team had fallen into ugly disrepair -- and when fans, who were giddy just to see their team reach the playoffs twice in the franchise's first six seasons, figured that was a splendid achievement.

To Sutter, it wasn't. Making the playoffs should be a minimum requirement every season, he said. He then led the Sharks to their first winning regular season and their first division championship while reaching the second round twice in five postseason trips. In 2002, his best team lost to Colorado by a single goal in Game 6 and Game 7 of round two. He was fired seven months later after a slow start to the '02-03 season.

"A couple of times, we were close," Sutter said. "And I think we were as good a team as we have now here (with the Kings). We just didn't win it."

So, yes, Sutter is the same straight-talking and unpretentious man he was during his five-plus seasons in San Jose. And although he's been gone for more than 10 years, he still knows people here -- the "blue collar guys," Sutter calls them. He means the equipment managers, the mail room man, the maintenance folks.

The Kings pulled into town early Wednesday morning after a loss at Phoenix. But by early afternoon, Sutter already had touched base with his "guys." All congratulated him on the Cup victory, his first after eight seasons as a player and 13 as a coach. And in response, even the hard-boot hockey man had to admit the reality of winning it more than matched the dream.

"It was awesome," Sutter said without compunction of the Kings' six-game victory over New Jersey. "The best part was seeing the players, seeing them celebrate. ... You know, what they go through to win it ... it gives you shivers."

And how about his own feelings?

"You're just exhausted," Sutter said. "There's nothing left. I was in bed by midnight the night we won. There was no big party." He smiled.

"You have to get some sleep," Sutter said, "and get back your energy ... and then you party."

Of course, that is a relative term in Sutter-ville. The NHL has a tradition of allowing each winning player or coach to "own" the Stanley Cup for a day. So the trophy made a trip to the Sutter family farm in Viking, Alberta, where Darryl and his six hockey-playing brothers grew up. A fiddle-playing band showed up for a picnic with Sutter's relatives and friends. Horses were ridden. Checkered shirts were worn.

The Los Angeles Times website features a gallery of pictures from that day. The best photo shows Sutter and his son, Chris, posing with the Cup in the barn hayloft where Darryl and his siblings once played pickup hockey between chores. The 19-year-old Chris, who has Down syndrome, and his father are staring out the hayloft window with the sun hitting their faces and the trophy. It's an immensely touching image.

In San Jose, where Chris spent his grade-school years and rapidly became a favorite of players and other Sharks employees, the image will especially hit home. Chris is "doing awesome," said Darryl, who said his biggest joy was simply having his extended family on hand for the affair. Two of his brothers had won Stanley Cups as players -- but in those days, the "Trophy Day" routine had not been instituted. So this was the first time the trophy had visited the Sutter homestead.

"It was great to see all my nieces and nephews there to enjoy it," Sutter said. "They had never been able to do that with their dads."

Would he have considered his own career to be a failure if he had not won a Cup?

"Not a chance," Sutter said, then explained.

"The way I look at it," Sutter said, "I've been fortunate to be 34 or 35 years in hockey and ... in the entire history of the NHL, you know, only about 5 percent of the coaches have won a Stanley Cup and about 1 percent of the players have ever won one. So there are going to be a lot of great players who never do."

At least one good hockey man did.

Thursday's game

Los Angeles (14-9-2) at Sharks (11-8-6), 7:30 p.m. CSNCA

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