Reporting from Calgary, Canada — Family and hockey will be merging, once again, an almost unavoidable occurrence as long as there are Sutters still around to skate, score, coach and put teams together in the NHL.
Merging and not colliding, Brent Sutter promised.
Brent, the Calgary Flames’ coach, was talking about the fascinating Sutter family dynamic Friday at the Saddledome, a few hours before older brother and Kings Coach Darryl Sutter arrived for their first game against each other as coaches, here Saturday night.
They are intense men from an intense hockey family, only a notch or two below older brother Brian Sutter, their acknowledged leader.
“I’ve never seen Brian go over the glass between benches and grab another coach, so that won’t happen with Darryl and I, either,” Brent said of Brian.
Glad to sort that out.
This chapter offers a slightly different version of the Sutter vs. Sutter story. Six of the seven Sutter brothers — hailing from tiny Viking in central Alberta — played in the NHL, an unprecedented sports feat. Darryl played against his brothers, coached four of his siblings and coached against Brian and Duane.
If this sounds slightly confusing, well, it is. And that’s not even getting into the stories about the Sutter twins, Rich and Ron, or the time Darryl, then Calgary’s general manager, traded his son Brett to the Carolina Hurricanes in 2010.
The twist is that for years Darryl was an inherent part of the Flames’ fabric, coaching Calgary within a game of the Stanley Cup in 2004 and then leaving the bench to become general manager in 2007. His final coaching hire with the Flames was Brent, and there was unrelenting interest in this cradle of hockey.
“If Darryl and Brent were maybe coach and GM [elsewhere], it wouldn’t have been magnified as much,” said Ron Sutter, the Flames’ director of player development. “Every little thing that got said or done or how a situation has handled or dealt with, it was always scrutinized by the owners, scrutinized by upper management, scrutinized by media. They’re all experts.”
It is unclear how long there was limited communication between the brothers after Darryl resigned a little more than a year ago and returned to the family ranch. However, as soon as his older brother was hired by the Kings, Ron said his children wanted to go to Los Angeles to see Uncle Darryl’s debut. It’s just the Sutter family way.
“The big thing is caring about each other,” said Ron, who played for Darryl in San Jose. “And that’s very strong today. We don’t all get along all the time. We don’t always talk all the time. But when you do talk, there’s that instant connect. Not a day goes by, driving home from work or sitting in your office, where something doesn’t cross your mind about one of the brothers.
“I know Darryl and Brent have had their differences and indifferences, but it comes down to passion and caring and love of the game. Each of us has our own idea or philosophy of what we want to achieve. We don’t always necessarily have the same way of getting there.”
Darryl and Brent played phone tag Sunday and finally spoke that night, they said in separate interviews. Darryl left Brent a message, praising him for the effort the Flames showed in beating Minnesota, the game after the Bruins crushed Calgary, 9-0.
“You know what? We’re still brothers,” Brent said. “And we got shellacked pretty good in Boston.”
Said Darryl: “They got their [butts] kicked in Boston and then to bounce back … that’s got a lot to do with coaching. That’s a good mark for him.”
For the Sutters, hockey and family have been like church and state. It has not been a problem for Darryl or Brent or the other brothers to separate the two.
“It’s never been that big a deal,” Brent said. “It goes back to when we were kids, competing. Whether it was in the hayloft or playing road hockey or football or when you have that many boys in a family, it’s just the way you’re brought up. Maybe it’s hard for people to understand that. But it’s not for us.”
Said Darryl: “It was very simple. When we were at the rink: coach, player. If there was anything in the family, you could separate it. It’s easy to do. And it’s nobody’s business.”
Brent said the brothers talked about their kids — Brent’s son Brandon also plays for the Hurricanes — the cows, and a little bit about hockey, but not about Saturday night’s homecoming game.
“Everyone asks: ‘What is your favorite memory?’ ” Darryl said. “Mine was the first time I played against all my brothers in the NHL. It was my favorite, not the hardest one. I can still remember the first time I played against Brian, the first time I played against Duane and Brent and Ronnie. It’s the same thing.”
Jockeying for position in the NHL standings is one thing. Still, it’s nothing quite like seven boys growing up and occupying tight living quarters in one Alberta farming household. Brian Sutter told George Johnson, then of the Calgary Sun, about the competitive family dynamic.
“We had seven kids and one bathroom,” Sutter said in an interview in 1997, when he was coaching the Flames and Darryl was coaching the Sharks. “Now that’s competition.”
Reminded of that quote, Ron Sutter laughed and said the twins weren’t part of that fight.
“We would have to wait in line because we were younger,” he said.
It’s just a shame there was no Sutter sister to throw elbows in the hayloft or in the rink.
“She would have been tough,” Ron said. “She would have held her own.”
The Sutter way. The only way.