By Larry Wigge
The Carolina Hurricanes went to the Stanley Cup finals in 2002 and then won it all in 2006 with a great deal of strength down the middle.
Ron Francis, Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour ... later Doug Weight.
All with strength and leadership.
Only Staal remains remains for that DNA -- unless, of course, you add the newest member of that up the middle strength, Brandon Sutter.
Yes, another Sutter.
That's all you need to know. The name is synonymous with a style of hockey defined by determination, grit and an unwavering work ethic that those Viking, Alberta brothers -- Brian, Darryl, Brent, Duane, Ron and Rich -- took to the NHL during the 1970s and '80s and beyond.
And now we're being introduced to the second generation Sutter. Brandon, by name, Carlina's first-round pick, 11th overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Same name. Same game.
Brandon is tall at 6-3, but he's just 170 pounds with plenty of room to grow bigger and stronger and more Sutter-like. He's not your prototypical workaholic Sutter size at 5-10 or so. But don't tell him, because he plays like he's 6-4 and 235 pounds.
"You only have to watch him once to know that Brandon is one of the smartest players in the draft," added Hurricanes General Manager Jim Rutherford. "It just jumps out at you how much he understands the game. You go out looking for a certain type of player to build around and we have three players from the same mold in Eric Staal, Rob Brind'Amour and now Brandon Sutter. They're all centers who know what it means to sacrifice to play that team game at both ends of the rink."
"When you grow up with the values of a Sutter, you don't look at pressure as a bad thing -- you use it as a motivation to achieve your goals," Brandon Sutter exclaimed.
Said Toronto GM Brian Burke, "It's like taking a chainsaw and cutting off the end of that wonderful mold we saw for so many years and you've got the same special piece that makes a Sutter. Simply put, he's a Sutter."
A Sutter ...
"To me, Sutter is like a verb," said former Calgary Flames GM Craig Button. "It's a very descriptive word, when you start tossing around the intangibles it takes to win in this business, like heart, passion for the game, thinking the game and puck skills.
"Bottom line. If you're interested in winning, you want this kid on your side in spades. It starts with the Sutter hard work mentality. But it's more. It's like when you start describing the kind of players you want on your team and you say; 'I want this. This. Plus this. And that.' By the time you're through with that checklist, you've described a winner like Brandon Sutter is going to be."
Let's play the word game and begin with tenacity.
Integrity. Grit. Effort. Soul.
Sutter scored his 17th goal of the season to lead the Canes to 2-1 victory at Ottawa April 3. Brandon had 15 assists, but the numbers don't mean much. It the other things.
"You can't go wrong by drafting a Staal or a Sutter," Hurricanes Director of Amateur Scouting Sheldon Ferguson said succinctly, after his team picked center Brandon Sutter, Brent's son. "You know you're getting a hard-work ethic, a character player and a legacy of great hockey all rolled into one."
For quite a while, Brandon Sutter was impervious to the last name he was carrying. He never thought about the legacy, the fact that his dad and five uncles were all playing in the National Hockey League ... at the same time.
"I remember living in New York and then Chicago and going to the rink with my dad (Brent who won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders and got to the Final one more time in Chicago) and just thinking it was his job, nothing more," Brandon recalled when I asked when he first realized his name stood for something pretty special.
Truth be told, these Sutters, first or second generation, aren't impressed easily. Not when they grew up on the wonderfully chronicled farm of Louis and Grace Sutter in Viking, where the first generation Sutters worked hard and played hard -- whether it was on the lake or in the loft of the old barn that still creeks from the days when Brian and Darryl might gang up on the younger brothers in a game of shinny and they'd pound one another into submission.
Several straight-bladed sticks and frozen tennis balls still can be found in the hayloft as if the boys had just been called in for dinner, never to return.
"Eventually," Brandon laughed, "we heard or read about all of those stories. But, for the most part, we were just kids growing up. We'd go to grandma and grandpas and play shinny in the loft with cousins and uncles and thought nothing of it.
"We would see the statue and the signs outside of town in Viking and the murals of my dad and uncles and grandma and grandpa at the rink in town where they all played. Seeing that was probably my first real clue that the name and my family meant something special in hockey."
"There's not much to choose in terms of professions," laughed Darryl, who now coaches for the Los Angeles Kings. "Just like us, our kids are either going to be farmers or hockey players. And they know they can always be farmers, so that's why hockey is so appealing to try.
"You could tell Brandon was something special in midget," Darryl added. "He's a tall, lanky kid and a great two-way center -- something every team is looking for."
"He's got a prickly attitude and plays with an edge," added his dad and coach of the Red Deer Rebels.
"I just don't get caught up in flowery descriptions, you understand," Brent said in talking about his kid, the future NHLer. "Let's just say, I'm a very proud father ... today and every day."
Pressure to live up to this daunting Sutter legacy?
"When you grow up with the values of a Sutter, you don't look at pressure as a bad thing -- you use it as a motivation to achieve your goals," Brandon said with typical Sutter confidence.
And what's the best advice Brandon has received?
"My dad taught me and my uncles have repeated it, 'Hard work and respect to the game and the people you meet.' That's a motto I've always tried to live by," Brandon said. "It was something special to have my father as my coach. He's a good coach. Very smart. Very demanding of respect and work ethic from his players."
Then, I asked Brandon who's tougher ... mom or dad.
"That's easy, mom," he added with a big grin looking over toward Connie Sutter. "They both have their rules, their discipline. Dad's tough, no doubt about it. But mom is the glue of the family. I've seen dad buckle at the knees when mom wants something done around the house that he forgot to do."
Then, Brandon laughed and added, "At the rink, I am a player. At home, I am a son. Nothing more."
Not quite. He's a Sutter.
"I'd say that's a pretty good family to pick from, wouldn't you?" said Peter Laviolette, former Canes coach and now with the Philadelhia Flyers.