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Sutter Clutter

It was, oh, brother, an NHL record—Most Sutters Involved, One Game: Six

Q. Can we go through this slowly?

A. O.K., from the top. Brian Sutter is the head coach of the St. Louis Blues. Darryl Sutter is the associate coach for the Chicago Blackhawks. Rich and Ron Sutter play for the Blues. Brent Sutter plays for the Blackhawks. All five brothers were working in one NHL game on Sunday night at Chicago Stadium, a 5-1 win for the Blackhawks. A sixth brother, Duane, also is employed by the Blackhawks as a scout but was on assignment at a minor league game.

Q. So six Sutters were involved, one way or another, in the same game?

A. Six.

Q. Is this an NHL Sutter record?

A. This is the record. It will be listed as Most Sutters Involved, One Game: Six. The previous record was Most Sutters Involved, One Game: Five. That one was set Oct. 19 when Chicago played at St. Louis. Brent has joined the Blackhawks since that game as part of a four-player trade with the New York Islanders. This created the opportunity for all six brothers to be involved in one game for the first time in their long and varied careers.

Q. How long and how varied have these careers been?

A. Sutters have played in 4,294 NHL games. That is more than 50 NHL seasons. Sutters have scored 1,265 goals, picked up 2,736 points and spent more than 120 hours in the penalty box. There is no available data on how many skates they have worn out or sticks they have broken. The biggest scorer, Brian, had 303 goals, 636 points, but Brent should pass him in both categories by the end of the season. At week's end, Brent had 289 goals, 617 points.

Q. Brian is the oldest?

A. Brian is the oldest of the hockey players. There is a seventh brother, Gary, who did not play pro hockey. He works for the highway commission back home in Viking, Alberta. Brian played 12 seasons for the Blues and then was named their coach when he retired in 1988. He was the NHL Coach of the Year last season.

Q. The others simply followed Brian?

A. The brothers are close in age, all seven (there are no girls) born within 10 years on a 640-acre farm near Viking. Brian set a no-nonsense standard. These are not exactly the Marx Brothers, these guys, giving each other hotfoots or honking horns and spraying seltzer water. They don't smile a lot. They work hockey as if they were working on the farm. Brian showed that work could bring results. Darryl remembers thinking for the first time that he possibly could play in the NHL when Brian made the NHL.

Q. They all play the same?

A. Ron Caron, the general manager of the Blues, was asked if he would like a team filled with Sutters, all Sutters, say 20 of them. "Well," he said, "you'd probably want some speed somewhere...and some puck handling...." The basic Sutter game has been to bump and disrupt, to knock people from the other team away from the puck and give it to people on the Sutter team. None of the Sutters have been stylists. They are hockey workers.

Q. How did they act, all involved in this one game? They must have been excited.

A. Not really. They feel as if they have been playing on the same team or against each other forever. There might have been a jolt of excitement back in 1984 when the youngest brothers, the twins, Rich and Ron, played for the Philadelphia Flyers and Brent and Duane both played for the Islanders (Most Sutters On Ice, One Game: Four), but that was a long time ago. Ron said one of the bad parts of a hockey job is that you lose the hockey fun, that there can be no joking around, that "hockey is a business and you have to play each game as if you might never play another one." Fun is in the summer. They all have houses around Viking, and they work at the same hockey camp. Summer is family time. The rest of the year is hockey time.

Q. They didn't talk to each other on the ice? Stuff like that?

A. Hardly. Ron and Brent were the ones who wound up playing against each other the most on Sunday. They both are centers, so they also have played against each other the most in the past. They played the way most brothers play sports against each other in the backyard. They gladly would have taken each other's head off. There was one play in front of the Chicago goal when they had their sticks raised and looked like they were going to start whacking at each other. Ron said later, "We've done a lot worse things than that to each other." He also said, however, that he has patterned everything he does on the ice after Brent. Brent was his model, a fact he has never actually mentioned to Brent.

Q. How about the coaching? Isn't it hard to have your brother as your player? Or as your coach?

A. Brian says that, if anything, he is harder on his two brothers than on the rest of the Blues. Darryl says that when the trade was made for Brent, the idea was to obtain a top-flight center to play on a second line behind Jeremy Roenick, not to obtain a brother. He says a business relationship is not hard to maintain, especially the way his brother plays. Ron also was traded this year, coming from the Flyers to rejoin his twin and to play for Brian. He says the trade was a shock. Brian had never said anything to him about the possibility. He says he wasn't worried about playing for Brian, because he had talked with Rich, who had spent two years playing for Brian. It all can be confusing, huh?

Q. It could be a nightmare. How would you like to broadcast one of these games? There arc all kinds of possibilities.

A. Sutter sends Sutter out to replace Sutter to try to stop Sutter. What will Sutter do? Will he leave Sutter on the ice or make his own change? Sutter was doing all right against Sutter, but now he has to play against Sutter. Make sense of all that, fill out the coupon on the back of a match-book and you could have a career in broadcasting. How about the three stars at the end of a game? First star, Sutter. Second star, Sutter. Third star, Sutter. Actually, none of the stars in this game were named Sutter. The Sutters were all pretty quiet. Brent had the Sutters' only point, an assist in the third period. The Blackhawks laid a pretty good whipping on the Blues. Sutter was sort of upset after the game. Brian Sutter. He didn't like the way his team played.

Q. Was there any chance for a family gathering afterward?

A. Rich and Ron were going out with Brent and his wife, but that was about it. This wasn't an occasion for celebration. No other family members appeared. The parents of all these Sutters, Louie and Grace, were back home in Viking, probably watching on television. The Blackhawks had played in Toronto on Saturday night. The Blues had played the Minnesota North Stars in St. Louis. This was one of those regular-season slam dances, two teams meeting for a night and then heading off in separate directions.

Q. But it was a record?

A. For sure. Most Sutters Involved, One Game: Six.

Q: A record that will stand forever?

A. Hard to say.

Q. Hard to say?

A. Brian is only 35 and a head coach. Darryl, 33, and Duane, 31, look as if they're going to stay in the game in some capacity. Brent is 29. The twins are 27. These are young men, all of them married, and among them they already have 10 children. You look at their future and you realize that expansion is continuing in the league and...hard to say. Stocking at least one franchise would not seem out of the question. Maybe two.



The clan was very much in evidence in Chicago: Rich (above, 23) doing some sticky business; Ron (22) and Brent (12) on the ice together (right); and Brian behind the bench, with Rich (left) and Ron.



[See caption above.]



What's wrong with this photo? When (from left) Brian, Darryl, Brent, Ron and Rich posed before the game, Duane was off scouting.