For Brody Sutter of the American Hockey League's Charlotte Checkers, an affinity for the game is all in the family.
Currently in his second year with the Carolina Hurricanes' top affiliate, Brody is part of the second generation of one of the most renowned families in NHL history. His father, Duane, and uncles Brent, Brian, Rich, Ron and Darryl collectively played in almost 5,000 NHL games between 1976 and 2001 and have remained active in the League in various coaching, scouting and managerial capacities.
Brody was born in Calgary but raised in southern Florida, where his father, a four-time Stanley Cup champion with the New York Islanders and current scout for the Edmonton Oilers, was a member of the Florida Panthers' coaching staff.
"Growing up in Florida, it was tough getting ice time, so any chance I got to go downtown to the Panthers' rink with my dad was pretty exciting," Brody said. "I got to go out after practice and skate with the guys [on the team] -- obviously that's pretty cool to do when you're just a little kid.
"I learned a lot from those guys and it's something I definitely look back on with good memories."
The 22-year-old center has also been able to absorb the hockey knowledge of his extended family, with whom he shares a special bond.
"We're all pretty close," Brody said. "We get together every summer, usually more than once, to catch up. I'm fortunate that if I ever need advice, I have a number of people to call that are always willing to talk to me."
Brody was chosen by Carolina in the seventh round (No. 193) of the 2011 NHL Draft. He spent four seasons (2008-12) in the Western Hockey League with the Saskatoon Blades and Lethbridge Hurricanes, serving as captain for Lethbridge his final junior season.
"It was exciting and it made it a lot easier going into camp," Brody said. "They just said to come in, work hard and try to open up some eyes, that it doesn't matter if you're a first-rounder or seventh-rounder because once you're drafted everyone starts back at even."
Brody made his professional debut at the end of the 2011-12 season and notched one goal in four games with the Checkers. He split his rookie season in 2012-13 between Charlotte and the ECHL, tallying three goals and five points in 23 regular-season games with the Checkers and two goals and five points in five games during the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs.
The 11th pick by the Hurricanes in the 2007 draft, Brandon, the son of Brent Sutter, was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization in 2012. Brett, whose father is current Los Angeles Kings coach Darryl Sutter, is a seventh-year pro in his third season as Charlotte's team captain -- a position that has granted Brody the unique opportunity to learn from the 26-year-old both as a relative and a teammate.
"It's awesome," Brody said. "We train together in the summer in Calgary, so pretty much year-round I'm around him a couple of days a week. He's a great guy and he's taught me a lot, so I'm fortunate to be able to play with him."
Brett, a sixth-round pick of the Calgary Flames in 2005, believes playing alongside his younger cousin has been mutually beneficial.
"We push each other to get better and we push our teammates to get better," Brett said. "That's something that in Charlotte, we all strive to do. We expect a lot out of one another and hold each other accountable."
On the ice, Brett sees more similarities between the two than just the name on the back of their jerseys.
"I think we both just play an honest game," Brett said. "We're not fancy players, we're not overly skilled and we believe in beating opponents by hard work more than anything else."
Brett, who has skated in 54 career NHL contests between Calgary and Carolina, has no doubt that Brody can continue his family lineage and become the ninth Sutter to reach the NHL.
"He's learned a lot, and he's learned quickly," Brett said. "He believes a lot in himself and he's got some good tools. He's taken on a bigger role this year and is playing big-time minutes, so I think if he continues working on his game, he's going to be a good player."
Brody's focus on improvement and preparation remains steadfast as he awaits his first NHL recall.
"I think I have to be responsible on both ends of the ice," Brody said. "I know what kind of player I'm going to have to be at the next level. I've got to be a guy that kills penalties and is good on faceoffs, good defensively and chips in offensively when I can."
It's a mindset that has been passed down through his family for decades.
"Just working hard every day, coming to the rink and trying to get better," Brody said on how he plans to continue working toward the NHL. "I'm lucky that I get a chance to play a lot here and it's helping me develop, so hopefully I can stay on the right path."
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