New Calgary Flames
coach Brent Sutter
has to get to know his players, and those players have to get to know Brent Sutter
Sutter might not want to read this because his players are going to get to know something about their coach which he might not want them to know, namely starting a New York Islanders
' tradition by screwing up.
Sutter was once a player with the Islanders and as a youngster in the NHL, he had to take part in an annual ritual. A rookie or the youngest guy on the team had to hit coach Al Arbour
on the face with a pie on Arbour's birthday. Sutter had played a half season for the Islanders in 1981-82 and was part of the second of four consecutive Islanders Stanley Cup teams at the age of 19. So he wasn't a rookie in November 1982 when Arbour celebrated his birthday, but he was the team's youngest player.
"We all got stuck with that job," said Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier
. "Brent Sutter
had the best one because he followed him into the bathroom and when they were standing next to each other in front of the urinal, he hit Al with the pie in the ear.
"So Al came out with the pie stuck to the side of his head and he started a new traditional called the 'pie in the ear' and Al said, 'No wonder you haven't scored a goal in a while young Mr. Sutter, you can't even hit me with a pie in the face from one foot away' and that became a huge joke."
Sutter really became an Islander at that point with his teammates.
Sutter's first NHL coach, Arbour, didn't mind a pie in the face, but other food in the face got you traded, rather quickly according to Trottier who witnessed defenseman Pat Price
breaking an egg over Arbour's head.
"Pricey actually broke an egg over Al's head one time and that did not go over big with Al," said Trottier, recalling the incident which eventually led to Price's departure in 1979 after about 190 regular-season and postseason games. "Al was one of those guys who had a strong presence and you know Al was one of those guys who cared. We all had such reverence and respect for the man so when Pricey did that, he kind of broke the mold a little bit and he wasn't an Islander much long after that."
Sutter joined the Islanders just after the team beat Philadelphia in the 1980 Stanley Cup Final. In the 1970s, the Islanders were loaded, but there were major disappointments, especially in 1978 after being bounced by the Toronto Maple Leafs
in the playoffs and the 1979 loss to the Rangers in the semifinals.
"As far as treating us, at the time we were tender, it could have gone either way, it could make or break us," Trottier said of Arbour and the failures of 1978 and 1979. "He was a father figure in a lot of ways. He gave us hell when we deserved it, we looked at it and absorbed it. At times we probably confronted some of his demands and he was the first one to say 'Hey look, prove me wrong, if I am wrong, I will be the first one to admit it.' He was really good that way."
There is much affection from those Islanders of the 1970s and 1980s for Al Arbour
to this day. Trottier thinks Arbour’s former players have an appreciation for him because of the way Arbour treated their parents during their playing days. Arbour made it a point to spend time with players’ parents.
“If my mom or dad came to town, he would always take time and not talk about me," Trottier said. "But he always took time to talk. He would talk about everything but me, but it always came back to me. Al cares about my family, so I am going to care a little bit harder for him because he is a good guy."
Arbour has run into some health problems as of late, yet there is still the old pie in the ear spirit surrounding Al's old players.
"We all got stuck with that job. Brent Sutter
had the best one because he followed him into the bathroom and when they were standing next to each other in front of the urinal, he hit Al with the pie in the ear. So Al came out with the pie stuck to the side of his head and he started a new traditional called the 'pie in the ear' and Al said, 'No wonder you haven't scored a goal in a while young Mr. Sutter, you can't even hit me with a pie in the face from one foot away' and that became a huge joke." - Bryan Trottier
"I called him up, I talked to Claire, his wife, for a good 10 minutes," said Trottier when he learned of Al's problems. "I had Al laughing afterward, I said 'Al, I am sure if you get on Claire's bad side, all she has to do is call one of us and we'll push off at the end of that pier down Long Boat Pier for her so she doesn't have to feel guilt.' I said, 'We won't feel guilty at all,' he was laughing, you know, because I am sure he wanted to push a few of us over that pier a few times in our career as well."
Sutter was on three Stanley Cup Islanders championship teams with Arbour. He was also the Islanders' captain when Arbour came back to coach the team. During Arbour's days with the Islanders, he got to know every player inside and out and his players got to know him as well, so much so that his old players still worry about his health and getting him the best medical care.
Coaches have to know their players, but the players also have to know their coach. And Flames players now know that Sutter actually started an Islander traditional as a young man of hitting the coach in the ear on his birthday.
The good thing for Sutter, though, is if he is nailed in the ear on his birthday by his players, it means it has been a highly successful season. Brent Sutter
's birthday is on June 10.