Hockey in their blood
It's over now, but for 25 years the Sutter family of Viking, Alberta, achieved what no other family in professional sports ever has. From 1982 to 1988, six brothers played in the NHL at the same time and from 1976 to 2001 at least one of them performed on hockey's grand stage.
Brian Sutter started the tradition when he joined the St. Louis Blues in 1976. He was followed in 1979 by brothers Duane and Darryl who joined, respectively, the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks. Brent joined Duane on the Islanders in 1980. Twins Rich and Ron in 1982 broke in, respectively, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.
Duane, who's been called "Dog" by his brothers since childhood, won four Stanley Cups with the Islanders from 1980-83 and Brent, two years younger and known as "Pup," won two Stanley Cups there from 1982-83.
"You win when you have a Sutter in your lineup," observed former NHL coach Jacques Demers.
The Sutter brothers, a farming family raised by Grace and Louis Sutter, played in 4,836 NHL regular-season games and 585 Stanley Cup playoff games.
They scored a total of 1,433 goals, and added 1,633 assists for 3,066 points. Scrappy to the last man, they collected 7,224 penalty minutes, topped by Brian's 1,786 minutes. Only Darryl, with 288 penalty minutes, had less than 1,000 minutes in the sin bin.
Darryl, in 1987, was the first to retire. Brian followed the next season and Duane hung up his skates after the 1990 season. Rich was through in 1995, Brent in 1998 and Ron in 2001.
Brian, Duane and Darryl have coached eight NHL teams in 1,693 games with a combined record of 765-694-226-8 as of March 17. Darryl and Brian have combined for a playoffs coaching record of 58-79 in 16 years of making the postseason. Duane's Florida Panthers did not make the playoffs during his 2000-02 coaching stint.
That the brothers continued to be successful in hockey after their playing careers is not surprising. They were uniformly regarded as eager learners and willing practice and game workers. In turn, they saw great opportunity in learning from intelligent coaches.
"I played for great coaches like Al Arbour, Mike Keenan, Glen Sather and my brother Darryl in the NHL and Craig Hartsburg with the 1984 Canada Cup," Brent said. "I had tremendous respect for all of them. It's helped me, no question. If you pay attention and be a student of the game, how can it not help you?"
Darryl was the first to turn to coaching. After putting up 161 goals and 111 assists for the Blackhawks from 1979-87, plus 24 goals and 19 assists in 51 playoff games, and captaining the team from 1982-87, Darryl became an assistant coach for one year after his retirement. He then coached Saginaw to a winning record in the IHL in 1989 and won the Turner Cup the following year as coach of the Indianopolis Ice. Darryl was Mike Keenan's assistant coach with the Blackhawks in 1991 and in 1992 when they played in the Stanley Cup Finals. He then spent the next 2 1/2 years as head coach of the Blackhawks.
Darryl became head coach of the San Jose Sharks in 1997 and joined Al Arbour of the New York Islanders as the only NHL coaches to improve their team's point total for five consecutive seasons. Sutter was released earlier this year by the Sharks and quickly snapped up by the Calgary Flames. By mid-March, things were looking better in Calgary as Sutter had the team on a 8-3-2 run.
Brian is the epitome of the idea that scoring, while very important, is not everything in hockey. A firebrand who hated to lose, Brian put up 303 goals and 333 assists, but that barely begins to measure his importance to the Blues. Captain from 1979-88, Brian was the glue that held the players together through a long period of ownership turnover and financial problems.
He was a hard-checking left wing who battled in front of opposing goalies, could grind with the best of them, had a tricky wrist shot, made pinpoint passes that helped put linemate Bernie Federko in the Hockey Hall of Fame and despite his 173-pound maximum weight, would drop the gloves regardless of the opponent. But he admits his limitations.
Brian ranks second all-time in Blues history with a 153-124-43 coaching record and .545 winning percentage. He won the 1991 Jack Adams Award as the NHL Coach of the Year after leading his squad to the second-best record (47-22-11) in the NHL. In his first year coaching the Bruins, Sutter led Boston to a 50-victory season, the Bruins' first in 10 years. He finished second in the Adams voting in 1993 with a 51-26-7 record. While with Calgary, Sutter compiled an 87-122-37 record in three seasons.
Over the past eight seasons with the Florida Panthers, Duane has served as head coach, twice as assistant coach, pro scout and director of player development. He coached the Panthers to a record of 22-35-8-7 in 72 games over parts of two seasons from December 2001 to December 2002.
Duane was recently appointed assistant coach to Mike Keenan, returning to the bench and the practice rink after spending most of the last 15 months in the front office. He's also a head coach this season, guiding his son Brody's pee-wee team.