Brandon Sutter’s an easygoing, laidback guy who never gets too high or too low, but even he couldn’t stop smiling after he got off the ice following the Penguins’ practice outside at Soldier Field on Friday.
The experience of playing in his first NHL outdoor game is special enough, but getting to do it in the stadium where he attended his first-ever football game and in the city he lived in for a number of years as a kid has the Penguins center absolutely thrilled.
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“I’m kind of an undercover Bears fan, so this is pretty cool,” he grinned. “It’s a fun place to be playing and I’m just pretty thrilled to be here. I was pretty jacked up, (when the game was announced). I’m sure lots of guys were excited it was here in Chicago, it’s a good city. But it was kind of extra cool for me just to kind of come back to the place I kind of grew up a bit. It was fun.”
Sutter lived in Chicago for about seven years – until he was about 8 years old – back in the 1990s while his father Brent played for the Blackhawks. Brandon’s love for the city’s football team began when his dad took him a game at the original Soldier Field.
“It started when my dad played here for the Blackhawks and he took me to my first football game when I was about 6 years old,” said Brandon, who turned 25 just a couple of weeks ago on Feb. 14. “Didn’t really think much of it then, it was old Soldier Field then. But when I look back on it, it’s pretty cool. And seeing how much it changed was definitely a big difference.”
“I just remember it was freezing old. That’s all I really remember about the game. But it was my first NFL game and it was cool to be in that atmosphere.”
Those were his memories of the Bears, but what about his dad’s team, the Blackhawks?
“(My memories are) just being a kid going to the rink and stuff,” Brandon recalled, “I remember the last couple years of my dad playing and stuff like that. And being around the dressing room like a lot of the kids are now, so it’s kind of funny seeing the transition. We didn’t live downtown here, we were out in the suburbs and I just remember my school and some of my friends and things like that. It’s definitely a cool city, I think my mom’s pretty excited to be back here and get to see some old friends and stuff, so it’s pretty fun.”
He was asked if he remembered old Chicago stadium, where the Blackhawks played until 1994.
“The only thing I remember about that is I had to put cotton balls in my ears for the national anthem all the time,” he grinned. “And the walk up to the ice level, I remember that too. That’s all I can picture in my head. The rest of it was at United Center.”
Brent retired from the NHL after his last season with the Blackhawks in 1997-98, and the Sutters moved up to Reed Deer, Alberta – the place Brandon identifies as his hometown. Growing up there, he spent a lot of time – more than most kids – on frozen water playing hockey and ice fishing. So needless to say, he can’t wait for the chance to do it as a professional.
“I think for a lot of us, we grew up skating outdoors a lot on lakes and outdoor rinks,” Brandon said. “But to get in an actual NFL stadium is pretty cool. The ice is pretty good, too, so I think everyone is enjoying it a lot and I wish we could practice like that more often. That was a lot of fun.”