During Sutter family reunions, the topic of conversation doesn’t usually lead with hockey, but it inevitably gets there.
“About 20 minutes in and that’s all we’re talking about,” said Brett Sutter, who signed with the Minnesota Wild as a free agent on July 1.
The forward is from the hockey-famous Sutter family, a lineage that has produced eight National Hockey League players, including his father, Darryl, who currently coaches the Los Angeles Kings, and five uncles.
“It’s fun talking about the difference between the game then and the game now,” Sutter said. “Obviously, they played in the old-time hockey era. They have a lot of real fun stories both on-and off-ice sharing their experiences, and now we can kind of learn about that side of it and share what it’s like now.”
Growing up with a famous last name and uncles in the NHL had a two-prong effect for Brett. Some people looked at the name on the back of his sweater with lofty expectations. However, it wasn’t something the 27-year-old would dwell upon nor place added pressure upon himself—living up to the family name.
“It’s second nature and I don’t put too much into it,” Sutter said. “Some of my cousins probably found it tough—they had some pretty high expectations. But I’ve been someone who hasn’t minded going about my own business and being my own player. That’s all you can really do.”
Of course, growing up with a father who played and then went on to become an NHL head coach had its perks for a hockey-minded youngster. Sutter was given an early look into the League, a perspective few children get to witness and take part of.
“I’ve got lots of memories of being a little boy and getting to go into the locker room in Chicago with my dad and seeing some great players there,” Sutter said. “In San Jose same thing. Getting to skate after practice and that sort of thing was always fun.”
It wasn’t long before he went from visiting locker rooms as a starry-eyed kid to pro prospect. The Calgary Flames selected Brett in the sixth round (179th overall) in 2005. Coincidently, the Chicago Blackhawks used the 179th pick on his father, 27 years earlier.
On December 23, 2008, Brett made his NHL debut with the Flames against the Anaheim Ducks, scoring a goal in his first big league game.
During the 2010-11 season, he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes, the organization that drafted his cousin, Brandon, 11th overall in 2007. With a family of NHLers, it was inevitable that they’d cross paths. Even after Brandon was traded to Pittsburgh and Brett signed with Minnesota they remain close. The two had a chance to catch up when the Wild visited Pittsburgh for a preseason game last week.
“I got to see my cousin on the road and go out to dinner with him,” Brett said. “Just having experiences like that; it’s like when you’re growing up playing street hockey in the driveway. You dream about it and being the play-by-play guy and then getting the chance to do it in real life is pretty special.”
With so many relatives with NHL experience, plugging Sutter into the search bar on Hockeydb.com can become confusing.
“There’s so many “B’s” in the family: Brian, Brent, Brandon, Brody. A lot of people confuse (his uncle) Brent and myself,” Sutter laughed. “You say Brett Sutter and they say, ‘I thought you were the old guy, the coach.’”
At Wild camp, Sutter is trying to make a name for himself. Along with auditioning for a permanent spot on Minnesota’s roster, he’s adjusting and learning the team’s systems. But he likes what he sees with the team.
“It’s a quick-tempo game,” Sutter said. “Those are the kinds of teams that are hard to play against: aggressive.”
To crack the team’s roster—one that has many established veterans and up-and-coming youngsters amongst its core—the Wild’s brass is looking for intangibles amongst the players on the bubble at camp.
“We’re looking for somebody to come in and not be a top guy on the power play. Our top two lines are pretty set; our power plays are pretty set,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “We need penalty killers, we need physical guys, we need momentum players and we need guys who are responsible defensively.”
Sutter grew up a natural winger, but within the last few years has found himself playing center, mostly when he was with the Carolina Hurricanes. Tonight against the St. Louis Blues, he’ll be used as a wing. However, he’s become comfortable playing either position and switching between the wing and pivot, something that may be valuable in an attempt to land a full-time gig with the Wild.
“I’ve gotten used to it now,” Sutter said. “It’s not too difficult. If anything, playing more than one position gives you a better chance at making the team or at least play in more games, so I’m willing to play any position that’s going to keep me here.”
The do-whatever-it-takes attitude is something Sutter hopes will catch the eye of the Wild coaching staff.
“I’m lucky enough to even get to a camp. Once you get here, you don’t take anything for granted,” Sutter said. “Come to work every day and give it your all and don’t have any regrets when final cuts are made.”
If he does get a chance with Minnesota this season, Sutter will have a few more stories of his own to share during the next family reunion.