April 24, 2006

Brent Sutter

Brent, brother No.4 out of the magnificent Sutter six, had 18 NHL seasons under his belt. Oldest brother Brian had 12, Darryl 8, Duane 11, and youngest twin brothers Rich 14 and Ron 18. Together the sextet from Viking, Alberta played a combined 81 seasons in the NHL, which is a good indication of their toughness and resilience.

Brent wasn't any different from his five brothers. He possessed the same trademarks as all of them. To sum up the Sutter brothers there are a few words that immediately comes to mind. Persistence, heart, leadership, grinder, mucker, fighter, team-player and winner. Most of the qualities that any player needs comes to mind when we think of a Sutter.

Duane, Brent's older brother (No.3 on the Sutter tree) personified a Sutter when he said:

"The way we've been taught to play hockey is to give everything we've got for each shift. We go out there to do our jobs all over the ice and, if we score or set up a goal, great. But we don't build our games around scoring."

Indeed, the Sutters never put personal achievements ahead of the team. Brent was no exception. He played for the Red Deer Rustlers in the AJHL between 1977-80 where he scored 285 points in 179 games. He then played for the Lethbridge Broncos where he scored 280 points in only 101 games.

NHL scouts knew that Brent had the same favorable trademarks as his older brothers. NY Islanders, who already had Duane on the team, eagerly snatched up Brent with their 1st choice, 17th overall in the 1980 entry draft.

By 1981-82 Brent was a regular on the Stanley Cup champions, playing 43 games during the regular season and was an instant success, scoring a point per game, including 21 goals while at the same time collecting 114 PIMs playing feisty in your face "Sutter type" of hockey. He and linemates Duane Sutter and Clark Gillies were one of the top lines heading into the playoffs, but after Brent made a rookie mistake he was bench for much of the playoffs. He spent most of his time sitting on the bench while taking the occasional shift on the 4th line until the final 2 games of the Stanley Cup finals. It was a great learning experience for Brent.

In 1982-83 Brent had a more defensive role and scored 40 points during the regular season. But then in the 1983 playoffs Brent played on a line with brother Duane and speedster Bob Bourne and they formed the best line of the playoffs. Together they scored a fine 70 points, including 27 goals, in 20 games. Brent himself had 10 goals and 21 points in the 20 games, and was taking many of the key faceoffs for the Isles. This line was a big reason why the Islanders won their fourth straight Cup.

In 1983-84 Brent scored 34 goals and played another Cup final. This time the NY Islanders lost to Edmonton though, ending perhaps the most impressive dynasty in all of hockey.

Brent's fine play won him a tryout for the 1984 Canada Cup team. Oldest brother Brian was also invited but was eventually one of the last players cut from the team, something that Glen Sather later said was one of the hardest things he ever had to do, to tell a hardworking guy like Brian that he was cut from the team.

Brent made the team and formed one of the best lines of the tournament together with his NY Islanders teammates Mike Bossy and John Tonelli, who was the Canada Cup MVP that year. Canada won the Canada Cup, making Brent's early career accomplishments nothing short of sensational. Two Stanley Cups, three trips to the finals and one Canada Cup victory after only three seasons. Brent would go on to win another two Canada Cup titles in 1987 and 1991.

Al Arbour who was very impressed with the lines play in the Canada Cup left the line intact at the start of the 1984-85 season. The line continued with their torrid pace throughout the season. Sniper Mike Bossy had 117 points, John Tonelli, the tenacious left winger had 100 points and Brent Sutter chipped in with a career high 102 points including 42 goals in 72 games despite the fact that his shoulder was separated at the tail end of the year.

That season was Brent's finest from an offensive standpoint. Brent's consistency was remarkable and the following seasons he had 55, 63, 60, 63, 68 and 53 points for the Islanders despite nagging shoulder injuries. He would become the Islanders team captain in 1987

In the early 90's the Islanders were just a shadow from the glory days and Brent was traded to Chicago on October 25, 1991 together with Brad Lauer for Adam Creighton and Steve Thomas.

Brent scored a total of 60 points that 91-92 season and helped Chicago reach the Stanley Cup finals for the first time in 21 seasons. Chicago eventually lost to Mario Lemieux and the powerful Penguins in four straight games.

Brent's scoring exploits tailed off soon thereafter, however he continued his defensive excellence. He drew the major checking assignments and took all of the crucial face-offs.

Brent truly was a leader wherever he played. Everybody looked up to him. Often he played hurt but he still worked harder than anyone else on the team. He never quit, no matter what the score was. In each and every of his 1111 regular season games and 144 playoff games he played his heart out in typical Sutter fashion, making his parents, brothers, teammates and millions of hockey fans proud of a hockey player who at all times put his team ahead of himself.

After retiring from the game in 1998, Brent returned to Red Deer where he guided the junior expansion team Red Deer Rebels to the Memorial Cup by 2001. He not only coaches and manages the team but also owns it and runs a successful hands-on farm as well. Sutter also became legendary in this country for leading Canada to back-to-back undefeated gold medals at the World Junior Championships.

Like his brothers Brian, Duane and Darryl, Brent is highly regarded as a coach and one day be back in the NHL running a bench. He probably could have any NHL coaching job he wants, but his love of junior hockey may keep him in Red Deer for some time to come.

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