Next generation

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

After years of shinny games in the family's Viking loft, the next generation of Sutters is starting to make its way in the hockey world.

While the minor-league travels of Brian's son Shaun have landed him in Fresno of the East Coast Hockey League, three others are starting to make strides in the junior ranks, including Darryl's son Brett.

"It's probably natural for them because most of them were going to be either farmers or hockey players," said the Flames boss while on his way to watch his 17-year-old son's Kootenay Ice play at the 'Dome.

"They know they can always be farmers, so they might as well take a shot at hockey first."

Both of Brent Sutter's boys certainly feel that way, especially 17-year-old Merrick, who recently left the family farm outside Red Deer to join the Junior A Canmore Eagles of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Turning down a chance to try the WHL, Merrick is breaking into junior as a big, fourth-line winger who is the first Sutter to pursue the U.S. college route.

"He's probably the smartest Sutter, that's why," laughed Brett, who stays in touch with most of his hockey-playing cousins.

"I see his dad a bit, so I hear how he's doing."

Brent is thrilled his oldest boy has found good billets and a team willing to help ease him into junior life.

"He's not a big offensive guy but he's good defensively and dependable," said Brent, whose son knows his role on a veteran team.

"He's more of a smart player. He's like a lot of kids out there who just need a chance. He's really good in school and he loves the game, so he has a good chance to do both if he can make it work."

As a Sutter, Merrick knows people will always compare him to his famous father and uncles.

"They all had similar roles and were very tough," said Merrick, who says he's had to block out various taunts from players targetting him because of his name.

"I don't have the offensive touch some of them have but I have that grinding style that they've always played with.

"I think I've got some of their traits and, in a couple years, we'll see if that changes."

One Sutter who already seems a cinch to continue his rapid progression is Merrick's younger brother Brandon, whose dad traded up to make him one of the top picks in the WHL's bantam draft last year.

"He's already a big, skilled kid who is going to be a really good player," said Darryl of the 15-year-old who centred a line that picked up 204 points in 37 games with the Red Deer Chiefs AAA bantam team last season.

Brandon is playing midget AAA in Red Deer this year and plans to jump to the Rebels next season.

While all four youngsters are blessed with the type of work ethic that landed a record six Sutter brothers in the NHL, three also have better size than any of their fathers did as kids, including Brett.

"Brett's a big part of our future and you can tell he's been around hockey all his life because he's very smart and he does the little things well," said Kootenay Ice vice-president-GM Jeff Chynoweth.

All four seem to have handled the pressure of being a Sutter well as they look towards adding to the NHL record book their fathers and uncles rewrote as the first family of hockey.


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