The highlight of NHL All-Star game is the smile of Chris Sutter
Who won and who lost Sunday’s NHL All-Star game will soon be forgotten, as it should be. What should not be lost in the All-Star-record flood of 29 goals in Team Toews’ 17-12 victory over Team Foligno was the grin that constantly illuminated the face of Chris Sutter, son of Kings and Team Foligno Coach Darryl Sutter, as he stood behind the bench at Nationwide Arena to offer encouragement and strategy, as always a friend and an inspiration.
Chris Sutter, who will be 22 in March, has Down syndrome. It has never limited his ability to love or to lift those around him, whether he’s dancing during Kings games — a familiar sight on the Staples Center video screen — or chatting in the locker room. He was excited about this long before he arrived in Columbus and wasn’t going to waste a moment.
“He’s gotten wound up for a couple days,” Darryl Sutter said before the festivities began. “He won’t be in autograph mode — he’ll be in visiting mode. He likes to sit down and visit.”
Chris visited with players during Saturday’s skills contests and shared the bench with his dad as well as with Kings assistant coach Davis Payne and the team’s equipment managers, Darren Granger and Dana Bryson. Granger’s and Bryson’s sons made the trip too. It created a family atmosphere, especially for the Kings’ delegation, but Chris also counted Bobby Ryan and others as favorites.
“I had a great time,” said Chris, the youngest of Darryl and Wanda Sutter’s three children. “It was a fun weekend for me. I had a great time with my dad. It was a fun three days here.”
He singled out Jonathan Toews and rightly so, as the Chicago Blackhawks’ captain contributed a goal and four assists in a winning cause. Jakub Voracek of Team Toews and the Philadelphia Flyers, formerly of the hometown Blue Jackets, led all scorers with six points. John Tavares of the New York Islanders and Team Toews tied an All-Star record by scoring four goals and Ryan Getzlaf, the Ducks’ lone All-Star pick, had a goal and an assist for the winners. Fans voted Ryan Johansen of Team Foligno the game’s most valuable player, keeping the sold-out crowd happy.
Chris said it didn’t matter that his dad’s team lost. He wanted to “just have fun and be supportive,” and he succeeded. “I found out about the players,” he said. “I know their names.”
And they know his. “He made us laugh a lot. It was great to have him around the room,” Kings and Team Foligno defenseman Drew Doughty said. “All the boys loved him and it made him happy, which makes us happy.”
For Kings center Anze Kopitar, having his father, Matjaz here this weekend and having Doughty as a teammate were among the highlights. “I never had an All-Star game with a teammate before,” said Kopitar, one of only three skaters who didn’t record a point in the game. He added that it was “pretty cool” to share the occasion with the rest of the Kings’ contingent, “and Chris most importantly, of course. It was nice to see Chris running around here, enjoying himself.”
Sutter agreed to coach on the condition that his family, assistants and equipment managers also went. It was his best decision of the weekend, more meaningful than the decisions he made in putting defense pairs and lines together for a glorified game of shinny in which players freewheeled without fear of being checked and no hits were delivered.
Sutter quit his job as coach of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1995 to spend more time with Chris and was out of coaching for two years before he was hired in San Jose, where he worked with then-Sharks General Manager Dean Lombardi. The rest is etched in Kings history, resulting in two Stanley Cup championships in the last three seasons after Sutter and Lombardi reunited in Los Angeles. It’s vital to Sutter that Chris likes Southern California, though Wanda often takes Chris back to the family farm in Alberta, Canada, when the Kings are on the road.
“I think it’s worked out really well,” Darryl Sutter said. “I tell him he’s the luckiest boy on Earth because he gets all the time he wants in California and all the time he wants back on the farm.”
He was the luckiest boy on Earth on Sunday. “It was awesome,” Chris said.
Forget the goals but remember him, with his arm draped over Ryan’s shoulder and his big grin in the team photo and remember this All-Star game as a success in a way few of these ever turn out to be.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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