Sutter: A Hockey Family History – Part 1

sutterPhoto: Philip Pritchard/@KeeperOfTheCup

In the third round of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, the Washington Capitals selected forward Riley Sutter (93rd overall pick). Riley is the son of Ron Sutter, who is one of six brothers that played in the NHL, and who make up one of the most storied families in all of hockey. In this first part of a multi-part story, Diane Doyle takes a look back at the history of the Sutter family in hockey, and the family’s history leading up to their hockey days.

In American history, the surname Sutter is perhaps best known because of John Sutter, the owner of the mill in California where flakes of gold were once discovered, ultimately sparking the famous California Gold Rush. In hockey lore, the surname Sutter is represented by a family from Viking, Alberta, that included seven sons, with six of them making it to the National Hockey League. Incidentally, John Sutter (originally named Johan Augustus Sutter) of the California Gold Rush fame, is a great-great uncle of the Sutters of hockey fame.

The Sutter family originally hailed from Switzerland, where a man by the name of Jacob Frederick Sutter was born in 1808. His son, also named Jacob Frederick, was born in Bruce County, Ontario and died in Viking, Alberta, where several generations of Sutters continued to live following his death. The father of the seven Sutter brothers was Louis John Sutter, who was born in Canada in 1930. He and his wife, Grace, had seven sons, starting with Gary, who did not play professional hockey, followed by Brian in 1956, Darryl in 1958, Duane in 1960, Brent in 1962, and Rich and Ron (twins) in 1963.

First Generation in Hockey

The oldest Sutter brother, Gary, played Tier 2 hockey, but never moved beyond that. Brian was offered a tryout with the Red Deer Rustlers of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, but reportedly turned it down so that he could help on the family farm.  Initially, Brian was cut by the Rustlers. “I couldn’t skate, I couldn’t shoot. All I knew how to do was work,” he would say later. In 1972-73 (the following season), he made the team and the first thing Red Deer had him do was purchase a pair of new skates at a local sporting goods store, as he had never owned another pair.

Brian Sutter

Brian Sutter played two years for the Red Deer Rustlers and then two years with Lethbridge Broncos of the Western Hockey League, a Tier 1 team. In his first year with the team in 1974-75, he was placed on a line with Bryan Trottier, who had been drafted by and would go on to much success with the New York Islanders. Sutter scored 34 goals and added 47 assists for 81 points, and as a result, proved that he could complement a skilled center by digging the puck out of the corners and standing up to tougher players. He represented Canada at the World Junior Championship in 1975, where he helped Team Canada win the Silver Medal. The St. Louis Blues drafted Brian in the second-round of the 1976 NHL Entry Draft with the 20th overall pick. He spent half of the 1976-77 season with the Blues’ farm team, the Kansas City Blues, but was recalled by St. Louis for the remainder of the season, during which time he recorded 14 points (four goals, 10 assists) in 35 games played. He remained with the Blues as a player through the 1987-88 season, after which he retired from playing.

In his 12-year NHL career, he scored 303 goals and recorded 333 assists for 636 points in 779 games played. Almost immediately following his retirement as a player, he was appointed as the Blues’ Head Coach for the 1988-89 season, a position he held through the 1991-92 season. The highlight of his tenure as the Blues’ bench boss was winning the Jack Adams Trophy after the 1990-91 season. After his tenure behind the Blues’ bench, he coached the Boston Bruins for three seasons (1992-93, 1993-94, and 1994-95), the Calgary Flames for three seasons (1997-98, 1998-99, 1999-00), and the Chicago Blackhawks for three more seasons (2001-02, 2002-03, 2003-04).

Brian then coached in junior hockey, being named Head Coach of the Bentley Generals of the Chinook Hockey League for the 2006-07 season. He then moved on to coach the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League for the 2007-08 season, replacing his younger brother, Brent, who became Head Coach of the New Jersey Devils. In 2008-09, he returned as Head Coach of the Bentley Generals. In August 2012, he left the Generals to become coach of the Innisfail Eagles, also of the Chinook Hockey League.

Link to Hockey Hall of Fane Profile of Brian Sutter

Darryl Sutter

Darryl Sutter was born on August 19, 1958. Like Brian, he played junior hockey with the Red Deer Rustlers and the Lethbridge Broncos. The Chicago Blackhawks drafted him in the 11th-round of the 1978 NHL Entry Draft with the 179th overall pick. Upset about being picked so late in the draft, particularly given that he had turned down college scholarships to play junior hockey, Darryl opted to play professionally in Japan for the 1978-79 season. At the end of his season in Japan, the Blackhawks asked him to finish the season with their farm team in New Brunswick, to which he obliged. The following season (1970-80), he returned to New Brunswick but played in eight games for the Blackhawks.

The 1980-81 season was Darryl’s first full season with the Blackhawks, and he managed to produce, scoring 40 goals and adding 22 assists for 62 points in 76 games played. His rookie season would turn out to be the best season of his career, as he was dogged by numerous injuries throughout the remainder of his career. He had a strong start to the 1981-82 season, but took a slapshot to the face that resulted in a broken cheekbone and eye socket, resulting in him missing half the season. Darryl was also plagued by a chronic knee injury, an injury that forced him to retire prematurely at the age of 29, following the 1986-87 season; additionally, he had had surgery to repair his ankle, elbow, ribs, nose and shoulders. During an NHL career that was spent entirely with Chicago, he played in 406 games, scoring 161 goals and adding 118 assists, for 279 points. In 51 playoff games, he cored 24 goals and added 19 assists.

Once his playing career ended, he served as the Blackhawks’ Assistant Coach in 1987-88.  In 1988-89, he served as Head Coach of the Blackhawks’ International Hockey League affiliate Saginaw Hawks, and in 1988-89, he was named Head Coach of the Indianapolis Ice. He served as an Associate Coach for the Blackhawks during the 1990-91 and 1991-92 seasons and was promoted to Head Coach for the 1992-93 campaign, a position he held for two more seasons until stepping down after the 1994-95 season to spend more time with his then-two year old son, Christopher, who had Down Syndrome.

Darryl returned to coaching in 1997-98 season with the San Jose Sharks, who at the time were starting their seventh season of play and had performed poorly the previous two years. The Sharks improved in points during each season of Sutter’s six-year tenure and made the playoffs each season, although they failed to advance past the second round.

After a slow start to the 2002-03 season, he was relieved of his duties as Head Coach. He was then hired by the Calgary Flames to finish the 2002-03 season and at the conclusion of the season was also appointed General Manager. He remained as Head Coach through the 2005-06 season, after which he resigned as Head Coach but remained in his role as General Manager, a position which he held until December 2010, when he resigned.  Nearly a year later, in December 2011, he was named Head Coach of the Los Angeles Kings and guided the team to a Stanley Cup win during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He would remain as the Kings’ Head Coach until 2016-17, after which he was fired as a result of the team’s poor performances since 2015. His tenure with the Kings included an additional Stanley Cup win in 2014 and two other appearances in the Western Conference Finals (2013 and 2015). In June 2018, he announced his retirement from coaching to return to life as a full-time rancher. In his 1,285-game coaching career, he compiled a record of 634-467-101-83 (including ties) for a winning percentage of .565. In 170 playoff games, he went 89-81 for a win percentage of .524 and two Stanley Cups.

Link to Darryl Sutter’s profile on Blackhawks Legends

Duane Sutter

Duane Sutter was born on March 16, 1960. Like his older brothers, Brian and Darryl, he played junior hockey with the Red Deer Rustlers and Lethbridge Broncos. The New York Islanders drafted Duane with the 17th overall pick in the first-round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. Duane started his post-draft season (1979-80) with Lethbridge, but was recalled to the Islanders after 21 games and remained with the team, recording 24 points (15 goals, nine assists) in 56 games played. He remained with the Islanders through the 1986-87 season and was a member of their Stanley Cup-winning teams in 1980, 1982, 1983, and 1984. During the 1980-81 season, he was joined on Long Island by his younger brother Brent. Duane was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks prior to the 1987-88 season and remained in Chicago through the 1989-90 season, after which he retired as a player. In his professional career, he played in 731 games, scoring 139 goals and adding 203 assists for 342 points.

After retiring as a player, Duane served as Head Coach for the Medicine Hat Tigers of the Western Hockey League for the 1992-93 season, before being named Head Coach of the Indianapolis Ice of the International Hockey League late in their season, a position which he held for two more seasons. In 1995-96, he was appointed as an Assistant Coach of the Florida Panthers, with whom he remained through the 1997-98 season. In 2000-01, he was a mid-season replacement as the team’s Head Coach. He served as the bench boss for Florida from 2001-02 but returned to his previous role as an assistant coach in 2002-03.

Brent Sutter

Brent Sutter was born on June 10, 1962.  Like his three older brothers before him, he played junior hockey with Red Deer and Lethbridge.  The New York Islanders drafted him in the first-round of the 1980 NHL Entry Draft with the 17th overall pick. He played three games for the Islanders during the 1980-81 season, scoring two goals and adding two assists. During the 1981-82 season, he divided his time between Lethbridge and the Islanders, with whom he played in 43 games, scoring 21 goals along with 22 assists. Additionally, he played in 19 playoff games, scoring two goals and recording six assists en route to winning the Stanley Cup. Brent was also a member of the Islanders’ championship teams in 1983 and 1984. Brent remained with the Islanders through the 1991-92 season, during which he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he remained with through the 1997-98 season, after which he retired from playing. In 1,111 games played in his career, he scored 363 goals and added 466 assists for 829 points. He was a point per game player during his time with New York, with his best season coming in 1984-85, when he scored 42 goals and added 60 assists for 102 points.

After retiring as a player, he became Head Coach of Red Deer, beginning in 1999-00, and serving as the team’s bench boss until he resigned after the 2006-07 season. During his tenure, he led the team to a Finals appearance in 2003, and also led the team to two 50+-win seasons in 2001-02 and 2002-03. During that same time frame, he coached the Canadian World Junior team to championships in 2005 and 2006, with both of those teams winning with unbeaten records. He was offered a third chance to win Gold with Team Canada’s World Junior team, but declined.

Brent became Head Coach of the New Jersey Devils prior the 2007-08 season, a position he held through the 2008-09 season. In both years, he topped .600 in win percentage, but in both seasons, the Devils were eliminated from the playoffs in the first round. After the 2008-09 season, he resigned as Devils’ Head Coach, citing family reasons.  Two weeks later, he was appointed as Head Coach of the Calgary Flames by his brother Darryl, who was then the team’s General Manager. He coached the Flames for three seasons (2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12), but failed to lead the team to an appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Flames did not offer him a new contract after the 2011-12 season. In November of 2011, he resumed coaching with the Red Deer Rebels and was also named General Manager, positions which he still holds.

Ron Sutter

Ron Sutter and his twin brother, Rich, were born on December 2, 1963.  Both he and Rich played one season for the Red Deer Rustlers (1979-80) before moving on to the Lethbridge Broncos the following year. Both played three seasons with Lethbridge, playing their final season with Lethbridge after being drafted in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft. The Philadelphia Flyers drafted Ron in the first-round with the fourth overall pick. He returned to Lethbridge after the draft but ended up playing 10 games with the Flyers, scoring one goal and adding an assist.

He and Rich were members of the Lethbridge team that won the Memorial Cup in 1983. The 1983-84 season was Ron’s first full season in the NHL, in which scored 19 goals and recorded 32 assists for 51 points in 79 games played. He ended up playing nine full seasons with the Flyers through the 1990-991 season, after which the Flyers traded him to the St. Louis Blues, where Rich was playing.  He remained with the Blues until he was traded midway through the 1993-94 season. After that, he played for several NHL teams, including the Quebec Nordiques, New York Islanders, San Jose Sharks, and Calgary Flames, with his tenures with most of these teams lasting for a year or less, with the exception being the Sharks, with whom he played for four seasons. While playing for the Sharks, he was under the direction of his older brother, Darryl. By this time, his offensive skills had eroded and he was predominantly serving as a defensive-minded center. His last NHL season came in 2000-01, with the Calgary Flames, after which he retired. Following his playing career, he worked as a scout for the Flames for several years. In his NHL career, Ron played in 1,093 games, scoring 205 goals and recording 330 assists for 535 points.

Rich Sutter

Rich and Ron played on the same junior hockey teams but their paths diverged in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft, in which the Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Rich with the 10th overall pick. He ended up playing only nine games with the Penguins in parts of two seasons before being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers, the team for which Ron played.  The Flyers traded him to the Vancouver Canucks before the 1986-87 season; he would remain in Vancouver until the 1989-90 trade deadline, when he was traded to the St. Louis Blues, with whom he remained through the 1992-93 season. After his time in St. Louis, he was a journeyman who played with several teams, including the Chicago Blackhawks, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs. His last NHL season came in 1993-94 with Toronto. For his NHL career, he played in 874 games, scoring 149 goals and adding 166 assists for 315 points.

After his playing career, Rich became a hockey analyst for Rogers Sportsnet. Since 2014, he has primarily appeared on Hockey Central’s lunch program Hockey Central at Noon, which is simulcast on TV and radio.

Summary of First Generation

All the Sutters with the exception of Ron, spent time with the Chicago Blackhawks, although Brian never played and served only as coach for them. Darryl, Duane, Brent, and Rich all played with Chicago, with Darryl playing his entire career with them.

Brian, Rich, and Ron all played for the St. Louis Blues, with Brian playing his entire career with the team and Rich and Ron getting traded there. Duane and Brent both played for the Islanders for much of their careers, with both starting their NHL careers on Long Island and both winning Stanley Cups.

Brian, Darryl, Duane, and Brent all became NHL Head Coaches, with Brian coaching the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Calgary Flames, and Chicago Blackhawks; Darryl coaching the Chicago Blackhawks, San Jose Sharks, Calgary Flames, and Los Angeles Kings; Duane coaching briefly for the Florida Panthers; and Brent coaching the New Jersey Devils and the Calgary Flames. In total, three Sutter brothers have served as Head Coach of the Flames, (Brian, Darryl, and Brent).

Stay tuned for Part 2, which will cover the second generation of the Sutter family.

Further Reading
Link to Obituary for Louis Sutter, Father of NHL Sutter Brothers
SI Article on Sutter Brothers from 1980
Athletic Article on Stanley Cup Visit to Brian Sutter

About Diane Doyle

Been a Caps fan since November 1975 when attending a game with my then boyfriend and now husband.
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5 Responses to Sutter: A Hockey Family History – Part 1

  1. Day One Caps Fan says:

    Diane D! A superb summer hockey subject piece: The Sutter Family! Good show.

    Old-timer Caps’ fans can remember, repeatedly, our latest goofy Caps’ team, bumbling through a losing season or a squandered playoff series … while some Sutter-filled REAL hockey team went blasting deep into the playoffs, often bringing home a Stanley Cup. Primarily the Islanders. Grrrr!

    It’s good that the Caps FINALLY have a Sutter somewhere in the pipeline. I hope Riley the kid makes the Caps roster someday.

    I was hoping against hope last season, after Barry Trotz was expelled, that the Caps might hire Wing Nut (Darryl Sutter) to manage the Caps to a second straight Stanley Cup Championship. It was not meant to be.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Good piece, Diane. So. Many. Sutters.

  3. Pingback: Sutter: A Hockey Family History – Part 2 | NoVa Caps

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