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Sutherby thriving after adjustment period

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

For Brian Sutherby, it was a long time coming. 

After 19 games in a Dallas Stars sweater, Sutherby finally netted his first goal with his new team in a 7-3 victory Jan. 31 over Columbus. It was his fourth goal of the season overall, but first since the trade on Dec. 14 that brought him over from division rival Anaheim in exchange for prospect David McIntyre and a conditional sixth-round draft choice.

He has scored two more since, three in the last five games overall. He scored the first Stars goal in the 10-2 rout over the New York Rangers Friday night, a key goal that tied the game 1-1 early in the first period, just 35 seconds after the Rangers took the lead. Then he followed that up with a shorthanded tally vs. Nashville on Sunday that gave the Stars a 1-0 lead.

But Sutherby’s value to the Stars should not be measured by his contributions to the scoresheet. The gritty 6-foot-3, 209-pound center brings much more to the table than offense - namely, hard-nosed, physical play with a touch of speed and a dash of defensive responsibility added in.

As he has gradually grown more comfortable in his new environment, both on and off the ice, Sutherby’s performance has improved. He has spent much of the last several games patrolling the right wing alongside crafty center Brad Richards and emerging sniper Loui Eriksson, a significant promotion from Sutherby’s previous fourth line duty.

Joining the club’s second-leading scorer (Richards, 45 points) and top goal-scorer (Eriksson, 25) means that Sutherby has been receiving more ice time, and therefore, more of an opportunity to showcase his assets. Any extra offense he provides is a bonus.

“It seems to be going okay,” Sutherby said of his transition to the more expanded role. “Obviously, those guys are two very skilled players and I’m sure I’m there to provide some size and some grit and be physical and be a big body and try and get them some pucks and let them go to work.”

“We thought his game was coming along,” Stars coach Dave Tippett said regarding Sutherby’s enhanced status. “He’s a big strong guy who plays with power and when you go on the road, it’s harder to get matchups and that and he was a guy that we thought we could get a little more out of his game, so we put him up there and he’s responded very well.”

Even if his teammates or coaching staff weren’t relying on him for offense, Sutherby, 26, was still more relieved than excited to record his first goal - and point - in a Stars jersey that night in Columbus.

“Yeah, it was nice to have one finally go in,” acknowledged Sutherby, who has averaged 12:38 of ice time per game since switching lines, a healthy increase from his overall season average of 9:02. “It was getting a bit frustrating there, but the chances have been there, and I guess that’s a positive. Hopefully, it’s something to build on and build some confidence and keep it going.”

“It’s good, I think he’s comfortable and he gets a little more comfortable when he gets a goal and contributes offensively,” added Richards. “I think that’ll just keep his confidence going. He brings a lot of size and trying to keep bringing pucks around the net. Any time he’s around the net, he’s trying to jam it in there, and that creates loose pucks for us.”

Sutherby’s abrasive style has been a good fit for the line, meshing well with the crafty, slick-passing Richards and the defensively solid two-way threat of Eriksson. In fact, the make-up of the line stylistically resembles the club’s other scoring line with Mike Ribeiro, Jere Lehtinen and Steve Ott

“He’s a big strong guy, plays a real hard, structured game and is a hard player to play against,” Tippett said. “He’s a physical guy that is engaged in the game physically and that makes it hard on the other team.

“He’s a hard-working guy,” Eriksson said. “He’s a good two-way player, too, he’s a strong player who’s good with the puck battles, so it’s been working good. He got a nice goal against Columbus the other night.”

Off the ice, it has taken Sutherby a while to adjust to his new surroundings, as he joined his third team in the last two seasons. After spending six-plus years in the Washington organization - he was the Capitals’ first-round selection (26th overall, one spot after Dallas took Ott) in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft - Sutherby was dealt last season, on Nov. 19, 2007, to Anaheim. So having experienced it before, it made it a little easier, but...

“Going through it last year, it’s always sort of an adjustment trying to make new friends, meet new guys and tie it in with feeling comfortable on the ice,” Sutherby admitted. “It obviously takes some time, but it’s a great group of guys in this locker room. They’ve welcomed me and with each game and each day, you feel more comfortable and feel more part of the team.”

One player he already knew was Ott, his former linemate with Team Canada at the 2002 World Junior Championships, and Ott, for one, was glad to see him arrive in the Metroplex, both as an old friend and for what he knew he could contribute on the ice.

“Sudsy was my linemate in World Juniors, also was my roommate that year,” Ott noted, “so we got to spend some extended amount of time together and build a friendship from hanging out when we were younger. I think it’s pretty evident what Sudsy brings to the table - he’s hard guy to play against, he’s strong, he’s a big, power forward-type of player and you know you’re going to get a consistent effort on a nightly basis from him. I think that’s the character that we build as Dallas Stars players, I think he fits the mold perfectly.”

Another teammate who’s certainly sympathetic to Sutherby’s trials of uprooting and moving to a new city on a moment’s notice is Richards, who joined Dallas last Feb. 26 in a trade deadline blockbuster. 

“Now that I’ve been through it, I view the people that come to a team halfway through the year a lot different than I did before,” Richards acknowledged. “I didn’t know what it was like. It’s tough, but he’s a good person and he knows Otter, played with Otter before, and he’s trying to fit in as well as he can.” 

Sutherby was happy to move out of the hotel he’d been staying at and into his own place just a few weeks ago, so he’s feeling more comfortable and becoming more familiar with the area.

“Everything’s set up,” said Sutherby, who’s single. “I’m not moving anybody around and not changing anybody’s lifestyle other than myself. It’s always different, it’s part of the business, it’s part of hockey. You make a lot of new friends along the way and that’s part of it.” 

Part of integrating himself into the fabric of his new club naturally occurs after contributing with solid performances on the ice, and Sutherby has been doing both lately.

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