Sunday, 21 June 2009

Number One Hockey Dad(s)

The first family of hockey is, in my mind, probably the greatest story of how fathers are important to the game of hockey. The Sutters - consisting of Brian, Darryl, Duane, Brent, Rich and Ron - won six Stanley Cups between them, and certainly have the family record for NHL games-played at 4994 regular-season contests. And the story of the Sutter family starts with the two people standing front and centre in the picture to the upper-left: Louis John Sutter and his wife, Grace.

Louis and Grace Sutter raised seven sons in Viking, Alberta, a farming community southeast of Edmonton. Mr. Sutter raised the boys to work hard at everything they did, turning them into hard-working athletes. They excelled on the baseball diamond in the summer, and were hard-nosed warriors on the ice in the winter. Of course, this legacy of hard-working children was not lost on junior coaches, and every Sutter brother went through the Red Deer Rustlers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League before moving on to play for the Lethbridge Broncos of the WHL.

While dad remained committed to the 1400 acres of farmland that he worked, the boys would help out in the summer as much as they could. All seven brothers played hockey at an exceptionally high level, and Mr. Sutter would drive around the Alberta map following them in their quest to move up hockey's ladder. Mr. Sutter's dream to see one of this boys get drafted by an NHL team was fulfilled in 1976.

Brian, the second-oldest brother, was the first to be drafted when he went 20th overall in the second round by the St. Louis Blues in 1976. He was also the only Sutter drafted by a WHA team when he went 36th overall in the third round to Edmonton. Brian posted 303 goals and 333 assists in 779 NHL games. He played his entire career with the St. Louis Blues, and his #11 is retired by the team. He most recently coached the Bentley Generals where they captured the 2009 Allan Cup. The Allan Cup is the trophy awarded to the national senior amateur men’s ice hockey champions of Canada. Essentially, it replaced the Stanley Cup after it was decreed that only professional teams can compete for the Stanley Cup.

Mr. Sutter got to witness another of his sons make it to "The Show". Darryl Sutter was drafted in 1978 by the Chicago Blackhawks in the eleventh round at 179th overall, making him the Sutter brother with the lowest draft standing. After not being offered a contract by Chicago, Darryl went to Japan and won the MVP award there. He returned to the Chicago and was sent to the AHL where he won the AHL MVP. Darryl also played the fewest games of the six brothers, appearing in 406 games with 161 goals and 118 assists. Darryl is now running the show in Calgary as the Flames' General Manager. However, Darryl did something rather unique in hockey - he drafted his own son, Brett, in 2005.

With odds comparable to a lottery, Mr. Sutter witnessed another son drafted in the NHL. Duane "Dog" Sutter, as called by his New York Islander teammates for his yapping on the ice, was the next Sutter to enter the NHL when he was drafted 17th overall in 1979 by the New York Islanders. Duane is the most successful of the Sutter brothers, having won the Stanley Cup four times during the Islanders' dynasty in the early 1980s. In 731 games, he posted 139 goals and 203 assists. Duane was most recently the director of player development for the Florida Panthers.

As we all know, the Sutter brothers kept being drafted, and, as a father, Mr. Sutter couldn't have been prouder. Brent Sutter was the fourth Sutter to make it to The Show when he was drafted 17th overall in 1980 by the New York Islanders, eerily similar to his older brother Duane. Brent won two Stanley Cups with the Islanders in 1982 and 1983. While with the Blackhawks late in his career, he was coached by his brother, Darryl. He retired as a player as the last active member of the Islanders Stanley Cup dynasty. Brent's off-ice achievements are certainly well-known. He bought the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, and coached and managed them to the CHL's Memorial Cup in 2001. He coached the Canadian World Junior teams to gold medals in 2005 and 2006, posting a remarkable 20 game unbeaten streak at that time (19-0-1). He most recently stepped down as the head coach of the New Jersey Devils. His career numbers showed him playing in 1111 games, scoring 363 goals and 466 assists to make him the most prolific scorer of the Sutter family.

The twins were the next Sutters to make it to the NHL, starting with Ron Sutter who was drafted 4th overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1982, making him the highest-drafted Sutter. Ron is the only Sutter to have played in his home province of Alberta when he played for the Calgary Flames in 2000-01. Ron was also coached by his brother, Darryl, when he was with the San Jose Sharks. Surprisingly, Ron’s career is the only one not to have stopped in Chicago. Every other Sutter brother played for or coached the Blackhawks at some point in their careers. He played in 1093 NHL games, posting 205 goals and 328 assists. Ron most recently was a professional scout for the Calgary Flames.

Rich Sutter was the last of the Sutter brothers to enter the NHL as he was drafted 10th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1982. Rich didn’t spend much time in Pittsburgh as he was reunited with his twin brother, Ron, in Philadelphia five games into the 1983-84 season when he became the first Sutter involved in a trade. Rich appeared in 874 games in the NHL, scoring 149 goals and 166 assists. Ironically, Rich and Ron spent time on two teams where their first names were used to differentiate between them on their jerseys. Those teams were the Philadelphia Flyers and the St. Louis Blues. Rich most recently was a professional scout for the Minnesota Wild.

Gary, the seventh and lesser-known Sutter brother, never played in the NHL. The oldest of the seven brothers, Gary taught his brothers how to skate, but he didn’t think he was good enough to play in the NHL. He declined an offer to play major junior hockey because he was about to be married, and he quit hockey soon after. However, the younger six Sutter brothers have always maintained that Gary was the most talented brother, and definitely the best skater.

Gary actually remained in Alberta, working a farm in Viking like his father did. His first marriage didn't last, but he did re-marry, and doesn't regret his decision to walk away from hockey. "Hockey isn't everything," he told Joshua Mills of the New York Times in 1987.

However, the Sutters still have a legacy going as the sons are now dads themselves.

Brett Sutter, Darryl’s son, was drafted in the sixth-round in 2005 at 179th overall – the same draft position as his dad. Brett scored his first NHL goal on December 23, 2008 – his first game in the NHL - against the Anaheim Ducks, two months to the day that his cousin, Brandon, scored his first goal.

Brandon Sutter, son of Brent, played for his dad as a Red Deer Rebel, and was drafted 11th overall by Carolina in 2007. Brandon was the first of the second-generation Sutters to play in the NHL. Brandon scored his first goal October 23, 2008 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was also the recipient of a vicious shoulder-to-head hit from Doug Weight last season.

Shaun Sutter, Brian’s son, was drafted 102nd overall by Calgary in 1998 in the fourth round, but never played an NHL game. He currently is playing in the British Elite League for the Belfast Giants.

Brody Sutter, Duane’s son, was drafted by the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades this past summer and won’t be NHL draft-eligible for another year. He was traded to the Lethbridge Hurricanes midway through this past season.

Now, the argument can be made that the Sutters are the greatest hockey dads due to the longevity of the Sutter clan in the NHL. They may not be the Mandelbaums, but they certainly deserve some chatter.

Unfortunately, Mr. Louis John Sutter passed away at the age of 73 on February 10, 2005 after a lengthy battle with an illness. Like he did in life, Mr. Sutter never gave up in his battle to regain his health. Rest in peace, Mr. Sutter. Your boys and grandchildren are still making the Sutter name proud.

All the best to your father, his father, and to you on this Father's Day, and don't forget to give ol' dad a hug today for all he did for you when you were younger. If your father has already crossed the bridge to the next world, honour his memory as best you can. And if you are a father, hug your kids today. Like Louis John Sutter, your kids will make you proud. I guarantee it.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!


Anonymous said...

You may want to update your blog. The team in the WHL the Sutter's played for was the Lethbridge Broncos. The Lethbridge Hurricanes came after the Broncos moved back to Swift Current.

Teebz said...

Good catch, Anon.

I also updated the Red Deer team in the AJHL to the Rustlers. Stick-tap to you!