April 24, 2006

Duane Sutter

There have been some pretty famous family connections in hockey history. The generations of Patricks and Conachers and Howes and Hulls and Hextalls rank as hockey royalty. But probably the most famous family in hockey is Viking Alberta's Sutter family. Six brothers - Brian, Duane, Brent, Darryl, Rich and Ron - went on to play long careers in the National Hockey League.

Duane was nicknamed Dog. But it wasn't due to his dogged play, but rather a name from his childhood. His mother called him "Dog" because as a child he would constantly whine and cry! When younger brother Brent joined Duane on Long Island, he quickly became known as "Pup," a name that would stick with him for his entire career.

Easily the most out-going of the clan, Duane Sutter was a first-round draft pick of the NY Islanders in 1979 (17th overall). It was great timing for Duane as he joined the Islanders just in time to play on four consecutive Stanley Cup winners at the start of the ‘80s.

But it almost never happened.

The morning of the draft, Islanders GM Bill Torrey called to say he was planning on selecting him.

"Thanks but no thanks," Duane recalls saying. "I don't want to play in a big city like New York with all those skyscrapers."

Torrey must not have known what to think of the response, but he decided to draft Sutter anyways. It is a good thing too, as he was a key part of the championship dynasty.

Duane applied the typical Sutter style of play immediately. He banged. He crashed. He fought. He blocked shots. He sacrificed for his teammates. He was a leader. He won.

But he added a little extra spice his brothers were not really noted for. He yapped.
Claiming to be heavily influenced by his favorite movie, "Slap Shot," no one was safe from his verbal assaults. He would often be in the middle of an after-the-whistle scrum, chirping away at opposition goaltenders, or defensemen, or coaches or referees.

Affectionately known strictly as grinder, and unlike brothers Brian, Darryl, Brent and to a lesser degree Ron, never showed a lot of offensive upside. This was despite his NHL debuted where he scored 2 goals and 3 points against the Edmonton Oilers.
However he scored 20 goals only once, but that was fine with his teammates. Often playing on a line with brother Brent, Duane brought so much to the table that could never be measured by statistics.

Like all the Sutters, he earned twice his paycheck just because of his heart and determination. Although he dreamed of playing in the NHL all star game, there was little chance a player of his stature could ever make it there. Yet he was at least as valuable, and in many cases more valuable, of a hockey player as almost any of the annual all stars.

Perhaps Duane could have had a chance to play in an NHL all star game, like Brian and Brent did, but Islanders coach Al Arbour never really gave Duane the prime ice time needed to achieve offensive statistics needed for such an honor. Duane often was depressed about his lack of ice time, particularly in his early years.

In the summer of 1987 the Isles decided to move Duane to Chicago in exchange for a 2nd round draft pick. By this time the Isles dynasty days were over and the Isles were unloading some of their veterans in exchange for some youthful prospects and draft picks. Unfortunately Duane was in this group.

While Duane continued to play that Sutter dogged style in Chicago, his offensive contributions were left behind on Long Island. Duane only scored 18 times in 3 years. He became much more of a role player in Chicago, although by this time he had matured about his role and it didn't bother him if he didn't get the ice time. Duane was happy to be there, partly because his brother Darryl was there and partly because he knew he could have an impact on the team. And he did.

Duane Sutter appeared in 731 NHL games, recording 139 goals, 342 points and 1,333 penalty minutes. Like brothers Brian and Darryl he retired prematurely due to injuries.

Duane initially returned to Viking to raise his family, but he got back into the game as a scout. Soon enough he wanted to get into the coach game like his brothers Brian and Darryl (plus Brent at the junior level). He spent three years as an assistant coach before he was named head coach of the Florida Panthers in 2000 for about a year.

No comments: