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Breaking into the NHL was hardest for Brian. There was no legacy, no bloodline going for him. Louie Sutter, the boys' father, had boxed a few rounds, but he'd never skated. No one from Viking had ever made it to the NHL. Gary had played Tier Two hockey but didn't get beyond that. Brian almost didn't make it that far. "I couldn't skate. I couldn't shoot. All I knew how to do was work," he says. At first he was cut from the Red Deer Rustlers, the Tier Two team for which all the Sutters, except Gary, played. "The first thing Red Deer did when I made the team the next year was send me to the sporting-goods store to buy a new pair of skates," Brian recalls. "I'd never had a new pair. I walked in with my old pair of size 11s, and walked out with a pair of 7½s."
Small wonder his skating was mulish. He worked to improve it, but at the time he had no serious thought of a pro hockey career. Sure, he dreamed of one, but you don't count on dreams. He would be a farmer like his father and grandfather. "Brian, he's a good farmer," Louie Sutter says. "He should be a farmer instead of a hockey player. He likes it. He worked so hard when he was a kid that I felt sorry for him if he lost a calf and I'd give him one of mine. He always had a 100% calf crop; mine was about 80%." He stops here to smile. "That Brian, he's a pretty good businessman, too."
Brian's break came when he moved up to the Tier One team in Lethbridge, the Broncos, where he was put on a line with a young phenom who had already been drafted by the Islanders, Bryan Trottier. Sutter scored 90 points that year and proved he could complement a skilled centerman by digging the puck out of the corners and standing up to thugs—of which western Junior hockey has more than its share. The St. Louis Blues selected him in the second round, 20th overall, of the 1976 draft.
Brian quickly established himself as a tireless worker, but in his first 103 NHL games he scored only 13 goals. However, he never backed down from a scrap, and before long the wings covering him began to give him a little more room. In 1978-79 things began to click, and Brian pulled off an unusual double by leading the Blues in goals, with 41, and penalty minutes, with 165.
When Brian returned to St. Louis for the 1979-80 season, General Manager Emile Francis appointed him captain. "It affected my scoring for a while," says Sutter, whose goal production fell to 23. "I was trying to do too much at first."
Chicago routed the Blues in the first round of last spring's playoffs, a setback that still haunts Brian. He didn't score in the three games and lacked his usual intensity. "We used kind of a psychological ploy against Brian," says Eddie Johnston, who was the Black Hawks' coach last season and now has the same job with the Penguins. "Brian's their catalyst, and I wanted to do something to throw him off his game. When you're watching how your kid brother's doing, you're not keeping your mind on the game."
What Johnston did was this: he played Darryl, recently recalled from the Hawks' farm team in Moncton, New Brunswick, on a line against Brian's line. Darryl was superb, scoring three goals against St. Louis, including the series-winner in the third game. Brian was ineffective.
"I think it worked," says Johnston, who was a teammate and friend of Brian's for two years in St. Louis and knew how closely Brian looked after his brothers. Indeed, the only time Brian spoke with Darryl all week occurred when they were scuffling for the puck along the boards. Both play left wing, and Darryl was out of position. "Get back on your wing," Brian whispered. That was all.
Because he hadn't yet got outstanding genetic credentials, which is to say that Brian hadn't yet had his 41-goal season, Darryl was only the 179th player selected in the '78 draft. He had been told he would go in the first three rounds, and he nearly quit hockey when he wasn't picked until the 11th. But he's a Sutter. So he went to Japan for a season and worked on his skating on the larger rinks there, getting four hours of ice time a day. When he returned, Chicago gave him a tryout with Moncton. "The Hawks were just so-so on him," says Johnston, then the Moncton coach. "I told them they'd better sign him because he was their best minor league prospect." Darryl got his contract, and last season he was the American Hockey League's Rookie of the Year. "This year you watch," Louie Sutter predicts confidently. "It'll be the Calder as Rookie of the Year in the NHL."
The center of the Sutter home, in practice and design, is the kitchen, which is Grace's turf. The morning of Darryl's marriage to Wanda Wemp it was a madhouse, with the twins being ordered by their brothers to rustle up breakfast while Grace attempted to organize the day. Nicknames are almost an obsession in small Canadian towns, and to save everyone the trouble of looking for the small, hockey-related scars that differentiate Richard from Ron, each is simply called Twin, even by Grace. Duane is Dog, and Brent is Pukey—a moniker foisted on him in the first grade, when he would vomit daily on his way to school. Again, even Grace calls him that.