When it comes to the NHL, one name stands out: Sutter
Published Thursday, November 13, 2014 7:00AM EST
Last Updated Saturday, November 15, 2014 11:01PM EST
Beneath the stands of the hockey arena in Red Deer, Alta., dozens of teenage boys, perhaps young men is more appropriate, gathered in late summer.
They were all dressed identically in black shorts and t-shirts. Staff for the Rebels, Red Deer’s junior hockey team, spent hours checking each young man’s strength, flexibility and reflexes.
Some of the young man have the cocky look of supreme self-confidence, while others look a bit nervous. Each knows a new stage in his life may be about to begin.
They are all prospects, young men whose hockey ability got them noticed. Scouts for Canada’s junior league studied their performances, prepared reports, and the Rebels drafted them, putting them on a path to a potential professional career.
Most are 15 years old. They hope to make enough of a mark during a few years in the juniors so that by the time they are 20, they’ll achieve the ultimate and potentially lucrative prize of being drafted by a team in the NHL.
Hopefully, they will have a lot of fun in their next few years. Because chances are, only one, perhaps two, will ever make it to the NHL.
But just as people will stand in line to buy a lottery ticket, young Canadian men will dedicate years of their lives chasing the prize of an NHL contract. They know someone will defy the odds and win. And on that day beneath the arena stands, they didn’t have to look far.
Watching and supervising the recruits is the team’s owner, Brent Sutter.
In hockey circles, the name is instantly recognizable. He is part of the most successful hockey family in the history of the sport, perhaps the most successful of any family in any professional sport anywhere.
Six brothers from a tiny Alberta town called Viking who left the family farm to carve out successful hockey careers.
“At the end of the day,” Brent told W5, “Sutter is just a name. We all happened to do the same thing. We loved doing it. And now, we have the second generation.”
First Family of Hockey
Indeed. In fact, there are so many Sutters, you pretty well have to be a Sutter to be able to keep track of them all.
I’ll begin with the first of the first generation.
- Brian played 12 years and went on to a successful coaching career. He now runs a ranch.
- Darryl played for eight years and is now a successful coach winning the Stanley Cup twice in the past three years with the Los Angeles Kings.
- Duane, who played 11 years in the NHL and also went on to be a coach, is now an NHL hockey scout.
- Brent who now runs the junior Red Deer Rebels played 18 years.
- Rich and his twin brother Ron played 13 and 19 years respectively, both retiring to Alberta.
- Among the second generation is Brandon, son of Brent, now playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
- Brett, son of Darryl, is property of the Minnesota Wild, splitting his time between the NHL and the minors.
- Brody, son of Duane, also splits his time between the minors and the NHL Carolina Hurricanes.
- Lukas, son of Rich, plays in the minor leagues but has been drafted by the New York Islanders.
- Shaun, son of Brian, was drafted by the Calgary Flames and now works in hockey management.
- Merrick, son of Brent, gave up the idea of becoming a player when he was a teenager, but continued in school and now works in hockey management.
And that is just a small slice of the extended family.
When the original six brothers agreed that they, their wives and their children would speak to W5, the immediate problem was one of logistics. How on earth to touch base with so many Sutters living in so many different places without blowing the W5 travel budget?
The solution could not have been better. It was an invitation to a private party at the original family farm just outside Viking. The excuse for the party was as welcome as the invitation.
As coach of the champion Los Angeles Kings, Darryl was bringing the Stanley Cup home for a day.
The farm is about 15 minutes outside town, down a dirt road that was lined with cars when we arrived. When this family throws a party, it is, by definition, large.
There are 49 Sutters now spread over three generations, and with friends invited to see the Cup, there were well over a hundred people scattered across a rambling and beautiful farmyard. There are a couple of houses, several barns and outbuildings, pastures with grazing horses, and boisterous children running about playing games.
It is in this farmyard that the original six brothers began playing hockey, or at least a Prairie kid’s version of it.
Brian Sutter points to a field. “I can remember when this was mom’s potato garden,” he said. “Even when we were supposed to be picking potatoes, we’d be hitting them with hockey sticks. And there in the barn, up in the loft, we played hockey there forever.”
Darryl too remembers when hockey wasn’t just a game, but a burning ambition. “Since we were little boys, we were going to play in the NHL. I can remember in the old farmhouse, and in the barn, we played every day. Not just for fun. We were practicing to play in the NHL.”
Brian was the first to get drafted, followed by the others, year after year, one after the other. Their mother Grace, now a widow, remembers a farm that suddenly, had gone quiet. “It was hard,” she told W5. “But I’d watch them all the time on television.”
Inevitably, with six boys on different teams in the NHL, she’d be watching them compete against one another. “That too was hard,” she said. “Somebody has to win. It never ends up as a tie. You gotta get used to it”
Conflict of interest?
In fact the twins, Ron and Rich, remember their parents’ purchase of a new satellite dish to watch as many of their boys’ games as technically possible. And while their mother wished for a tie, their father, in the words of Rich, “He just didn’t want us to beat the shit out of each other. He didn’t want to see that publicly.”
With hockey such an enormous presence in the lives of the Sutter family members, it was perhaps inevitable that the next generation would catch the bug. There are six sons of Sutters now who are solid NHL players and prospects, or who are working in hockey management. The number is likely to swell as even younger sons grow a bit older.
An hour or so after the family party began, the Stanley Cup arrived. It was given a place of high visibility and honour, placed on a table sitting at the top of the farmyard.
Clumps of Sutters, their wives and their friends would gather, positioning themselves for photographs. For some young parents, there was the irresistible temptation to plonk progeny inside the cup.
The photos inevitably are funny, showing babies looking either supremely indifferent, or utterly confused about the enormous silver bowl in which they’d been placed.
But they are Sutters. They’ll learn quickly.
W5 airs Saturday @ 7 pm on CTV and @ 10 pm on CTV 2. Also available on CTVNews.ca.