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Maven's Memories: Duane Sutter, Top Dog on the Islanders

Stan Fischler profiles Duane "Dog" Sutter, one of the Isles top grinders during the dynasty

by Stan Fischler StanFischler / NewYorkIslanders.com

  "Dog will have his day," From "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare

Had Islanders late, legendary coach Al Arbour been writing Shakespeare's prose, Radar would have edited it to read, "Dog will have many days."

The "Dog" in Arbour's case also was known and adored more familiarly on Long Island as Duane Sutter, older brother of Brent who arrived two years later.

Matter of fact, the ever-reliable Dog Sutter also could be called intrepid, industrious, indomitable; you name it, Duane fit all descriptions to a T, as in terrific and tenacious.

How about this to prove a point. In Dog's rookie season the Islanders won their first Stanley Cup. After Sutter's fourth campaign, they had gone four-for-four with championships. Duane was a big reason for the happy happenings.

Despite scoring a monumental goal or two -- plus getting four rings in four years --Duane is more remembered for his dogged digging and yapping than his other successful enterprises for the Islanders. 

"Let's face it," Sutter asserted without objection, "I got the nickname Dog because of the way i played; and because of the way I yapped. I figured that if I could get someone off his game with something I said, I was doing my job."

He certainly earned his keep during the 1980 Stanley Cup Final. In the fateful Game Six -- with New York leading three games to two -- it was Dog who scored the game's second goal to put his club ahead 2-1.

From that point on Arbour's sextet never fell behind and captured the throne on Bob Nystrom's sudden-death winner. But without Dog's big, red light and grim determination, the result could have gone Philly's way.

"I took my lumps for the club, which is why I know that I contributed to that win," Duane asserted. "I was asked to be a grinder and -- most of the time but not all the time -- I had no qualms about doing what Radar asked of me."

Ironically, Sutter actually did have a lot of qualms about coming to Nassau after being plucked 17th overall by general manager Bill Torrey in the 1979 Entry Draft.

In author Dean Spiros' excellent biography of the Sutter Brothers, "Six Shooters," Duane delivered a hitherto unreported fact; he did not want to join the Islanders. What's more, he told Torrey so before the Draft began.

Sutter: "Bill phoned me the morning of the Draft and said that if I still was available when it was time for the Islanders pick, he'd select me. I said, 'Thanks, but no thanks.'

"I told him straight out that I didn't want to play in a big city like New York with all those skyscrapers. But when my older brother, Brian, heard about it he called me and screamed, 'The Islanders are one of the best organizations.'"

That changed Dog's mind. He opened the season with a cup of coffee in Uniondale but was not quite ready for The Show.

Torrey briefly returned Duane to his Junior team in Lethbridge, Alberta; but not for long. Torrey knew his club needed some youthful pizazz and promoted Sutter early in November 1979.

"Jean Potvin took me under his wing," Duane remembered. "He was a tremendous help. After practices he'd come over to me and say, 'Let's go have a beer; we need to talk.' Jean talked a lot and I learned a lot from him."

Neither Jean Potvin nor his kid brother Denis had to teach Dog how to yap. That came naturally along with dropping his gloves and putting his mitts where his mouth was whether or not some bigger, tougher foe might land a haymaker.

"Because I was stirring up trouble, I got my behind handed to me a few times," Dog averred. "but I always felt that it didn't matter if I won or lost a fight as long as I showed up."

As (bad) luck would have it, there were a few times when Dog did show up yet found himself consigned to the bench. As he told biographer Spiros, these were the most frustrating moments of his eight-year career on the Island.

"There were periods when Radar kept me on the bench," Duane admitted, "and I argued with him about playing time. Once I threatened to ask for a trade while we were in St.Louis. When Al heard about it he called me to his hotel room.

"I'd never seen him so mad; I thought he was going to throw me out of the eighth floor window. He convinced me that if I did the job I was asked to do we'd all benefit from it -- me, the team and Radar."

There were many moments cemented in Sutter's head from the first Cup win. The obvious one was Bob Nystrom's Cup-winner. Less obvious was Dog's reaction as he simultaneously leaped over the boards alongside Bryan Trottier.

The jubilant teammates found their respective skates doing a Boy Scout square knot sending them out on the ice in belly flops half way across the rink. A less troublesome thrill was sitting in the lead car of the 1980 Stanley Cup parade.

Sutter: "It was me, Steve Tambellini and Denis Potvin. We got picked to sit in the first car because we were the only single guys on the team. What a scene that was; something like 40,000 people along the parade route.

"It was scary 'cause people crashed through the barriers and because we were in the lead car they came right for us. We finally made it to the Coliseum safe and sound."

After almost a decade as an Islander -- and having been on all four Cup-winners -- Dog was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks. His production dramatically dropped and after three more NHL seasons he retired as a player.

Looking backward, Dog suffers no complaints. He never regretted barking at the likes of goalie Pete Peeters nor coaches such as Bryan Murray. That was part of his job description; super pest who scores.

He particularly enjoyed the games with the rival Rangers even though he enraged Madison Square Garden fans in his first-ever game at the Seventh Avenue arena opening the 1979-80 campaign.

During the singing of the "Star Spangled Banner," Dog misjudged the final stanza -- he thought it was over -- and while the anthem-singer slowly got to the final chorus there was Sutter skating his second lap around the Islanders end.

"They booed me like they'd never booed anyone before. But what mattered was that I got cheered at home. When I look back at our accomplishments; four straight Cups, 19 straight playoff series wins, I come to one conclusion.

"Our Islanders teams could be considered THE Team of the Eighties in professional sports."

(Dog won't get an argument from The Maven on that one!)

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