April 23, 2006

Ron Sutter

Ron Sutter was the last of the Sutter brothers to leave the ice surface of the National Hockey League.

Ron was the highest drafted Sutter ever, going 4th overall to the Philadelphia Flyers in 1982 despite missing part of his final year of junior with a broken ankle. When healthy Ron terrorized the WHL with linemates Troy Loney and twin brother Rich, who is technically older by a few minutes.

Ron was never expected to put up great offensive numbers, although he would put up decent numbers during his Philly days. Instead, he was the guy who would try to shutdown the opposition's top player such as Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux. Sutter's defensive excellence was recognized around the league. In 1985-86 he finished as runner up to Chicago's Troy Murray in league voting as the best defensive forward.

Because of his tenacity, defensive excellence and natural leadership ability, Ron was instantly compared to Bobby Clarke - the Flyers Legend. Those comparisons were ultimately a little lofty as Ron's game lacked offensive polish, although Ron was certainly a key member of the Flyers during the 1980s.

The Flyers had some great years in the 1980s, and twice made the Stanley Cup finals, only to fall short to the powerhouse Edmonton Oilers led by Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier. The Flyers had the likes of Tim Kerr, Mark Howe and later Ron Hextall in their lineup. Those were some good exciting times to be a Flyers fan.

The 1987 Stanley Cup finals in particular are most memorable. Considered by many as one of the greatest championship series ever played, the Flyers pushed Gretzky's Oilers to the limit. The series took a full seven games to complete.

Had Ron Sutter been fully healthy, the Flyers might have had just enough to knock off the dynastic Oilers. Ron missed half of the season and the start of the playoffs with a stress fracture in his lower back. Despite the debilitating injury, Sutter came back to for the playoffs and played through immense pain.

Pain was nothing new to any of the Sutters. They're all-out style of play led to many injuries. In addition to the back and ankle injuries already mentioned, some of the more serious injuries Ron had to battle through in his career include broken ribs, pulled hip flexor, right knee ligament damage, abdominal pulls, seperated shoulders and the always troublesome groin pull.

Of course none of these injuries altered the way Ron would play, which likely made it tough for Mother and Father Sutter to watch hockey. Twins Ron and Rich played for Philadelphia, and brothers Brent and Duane played for the New York Islanders. The two teams had a fierce rivalry, and of course you knew that the 4 brothers would be a big part of anything that happened during a game.

By 1988 Ron began enjoying his best years offensively. The Flyers were starting their downward cycle and as a result there was more playing time for Ron, which meant more offensive opportunity. He played often on a line with Brian Propp and Rick Tocchet. By December Ron became captain of the team, taking over from Dave Poulin. It was a great compliment to Ron, as he epitomized what Flyers hockey is all about.

By the early 1990s the Flyers were going through their leanest years since they were an expansion team. The house was cleaned including Ron, who was traded to St. Louis in the deal that brought Rod Brind'Amour to Philadelphia. Ron was reunited with twin brother Rich in St. Louis and for one season the two played under head coach Brian Sutter. At least it was getting a little easier for mom Grace and dad Louie to choose a team to cheer for!

Ron played well in St. Louis until 1993-94 when he was traded to Quebec. His stay there was brief, as was his next stop. By 1996 he found a home with the San Jose Sharks for 4 years, but was strictly a 4th liner. In 2000-01 he signed with the Flames by mid season. He was clearly not the player that he used to be, but he was a good influence in the dressing room and a good faceoff man.

Ron Sutter played 1093 games, registering 205 goals, 328 assists and 533 points, not to mention 1352 PIM.

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