April 24, 2006

Darryl Sutter

Darryl Sutter was the second of the Sutter brothers to go through junior hockey and make it to the NHL. But for a time it didn't look like he'd ever make to the big leagues.

Following in Brian's footsteps, Darryl had a fantastic junior career with the Red Deer Rustlers in the AJHL and followed that up with a solid season in the WCJHL with the Lethbridge Broncos. He was expected to be drafted in the 2nd or 3rd round of the 1978 NHL Entry Draft, but when he wasn't drafted until the 11th round (179th overall), Darryl all but gave up on the NHL.

Darryl, who had turned down full college scholarships to play junior hockey, was so ticked off at the entry draft snub that he opted to play the following season in, of all places, Japan. One of the owners of the Lethbridge Broncos was Japanese and invited Darryl to come to Japan and play professionally over there.

It was certainly an interesting experience for Darryl. There was only one other Westerner on team called Iwakura Tomakomai. His name was Doug Johnson of Edmonton, but since has married the two didn't spend much time together off the ice. That meant Darryl was rather lonely. Some of the older Japanese people and even some of his teammates didn't like him being around, mostly because he didn't really follow their strict cultural guidelines. For example in Japan it is custom to bow to the older generation. After practices, younger players were to bow to the older players before heading to the dressing room. Darryl just skated off.

Darryl never regretted his Japanese trip. He got away from his troubles and learned a lot about himself over there. He made some nice money too, and in the process rewrote the Japanese record book for hockey.

When Darryl returned to Canada in February of 1979, the Hawks asked Darryl to finish out the season with their farm team. Darryl, who grew up a Hawks fan, fit in nicely and impressed the Hawks. They subsequently signed him to contract, and Darryl's NHL dream was back in focus.

Darryl had a tremendous training camp in 1979-80 with Chicago. The camp was memorable for his multiple run-ins with legendary Hawks tough guy Keith Magnuson. Magnuson had had several famous battles with Darryl's brother, Brian Sutter of the St. Louis Blues, in the previous couple of years, so he decided to test Darryl out. Darryl, in typical Sutter style, never backed down even if he didn't fare quite as well as Brian did. That instantly impressed the coaching staff and Magnuson.

Aside from 8 games that season, Sutter never made the Hawks. He was sent to the farm team to apprentice with the New Brunswick Hawks. He had a tremendous season capped off by being named the AHL rookie of the year. The following year he would make the Hawks for good - never returning to the minors.

Darryl's best season was his rookie NHL season of 1980-81. He scored 40 goals and 62 points. Although he had probably the softest hands of the family, Darryl knew that he would have a tough time duplicating 40 goals again. The Hawks were a weak team and many of Darryl's goals came with the game already well in hand for the other team. Plus Darryl played a lot with excellent center Tom Lysiak, who was winding down his fine career.

There was little doubt that Darryl could score goals though. Darryl was on pace to score another 40 in year 2, but he missed half the season when he took a Doug Wilson slapshot to the face, crushing his cheek bone and eye socket. He would score 31 goals in 1982-83.

That year proved to be his last injury free campaign. Over the next 4 years Darryl constantly pushed the 20 goal despite playing in an average of 50 games a year, many of those games in great pain.

In 1984-85 Darryl was the talk of the playoffs as he scored 12 goals in 15 playoff games, breaking Bobby Hull's team record for goals in the playoffs in the process.

Sutter had a chronic knee problem which cost him many games and ultimately his career. It was too bad that his knee didn't prove to be more durable, as he was probably the best goal scorer among the Sutter brothers. He was also the most injured. Besides the serious face and knee injuries, Darryl also had had surgery to repair his ankle, elbow, ribs, nose and shoulders.

Darryl retired prematurely at age 29 due to the knee injuries. He played in 406 NHL games and recorded 161 goals, 118 assists and 279 points

Like his brothers, Darryl stayed in hockey after his playing days were over. Darryl immediately stepped behind the bench as an assistant coach with Bob Murdoch and later Mike Keenan. By 1988-89 Darryl accept a head coaching post with the Hawks IHL farm team in order to get some head coaching experience, but he returned to Chicago as an assistant from 1990 to 1992.

From 1992-95 Darryl served as head coach of the Hawks, but he stepped down as coach to spend more time with his 2 year old son Christopher who suffers from Down's Syndrom. He served as the team's assistant general manager until 1997.

Despite his loyalty to the Hawks over the years, Darryl left the organization in 1997 to join the San Jose Sharks as their head coach. He took the struggling expansion franchise to respectabilty as he was only the second coach in NHL history (Al Arbour of the New York Islanders was the other) to guide his team to improved point totals in five consecutive seasons. Despite a franchise record 44 win season and the franchise's first divisional title, Sutter was let go after a slow start in 2002.

Sutter was not unemployed long. Just a few weeks later he took over the Calgary Flames job, and later would add the title of General Manager. He guided the Flames to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, and remains as one of the most successful coaches in the National Hockey League today.

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