SUN Hockey Pool

Loss tough to take

ERIC FRANCIS -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

Darryl Sutter likes telling the story of a day at Viking's tin-roofed arena. It was so cold that him and his tiny siblings were reduced to tears when big brother Brian took off their skates.

"Dad came to pick us up and told us if he ever saw us crying at the rink again he'd never bring us back," recalls Darryl.

"I guess he never saw us when we lost."

Yesterday they lost.

And this time, none of the boys could hide their tears.

Louis Sutter, the patriarch and driving force of hockey's first family, lost an 18-month battle with diabetes at age 73 yesterday, surrounded by a team of sons whose talents, success and attitude made him prouder than any dad in hockey lore.

Youngest son Ron joined mother Grace and brothers Brian, Darryl, Duane, Brent and Gary at the family's farmhouse outside Viking yesterday.

"The pride he felt was probably no different than any other dad," Ron says. "But in his case, he experienced that seven times over."

Raised in a family of 13 that had nothing more than what they could produce on their farm, Louis grew up without the love of hockey that would dominate all seven of his sons' lives. A brilliant boxer who was partial to basketball, Louis' passion for sport rubbed off on each of his seven sons who took to the frozen pond as soon as they found skates that fit.

It was there, in the snow-ringed coulees of his 1,400 acre farm, he was able to instill the sort of heart, determination and competitiveness six of his sons later put on display in almost 5,600 NHL games.

"He never regretted that he didn't play hockey because he would get out there in his rubber boots and still try to beat us with whatever he could get in his hands," laughs Ron between sniffles.

"He was very competitive but fair. He worked for everything he got and he hated to lose."

Sutter trademarks indeed. Uncompromising in his values, there was only one way Louis would run his family, his household and his land -- as a team. Those who weren't willing to give everything they had were whipped into shape through a tough love that gave his boys an edge and work ethic matched by few.

"He battled right to the end," adds Ron with pride.

"Duane said to me, 'he's not going down until the sun comes up' and sure enough, just before 7 a.m. when it was light out, he passed away with Duane and I by his side."

It was over the last few days, before Louis slipped peacefully into a coma, all seven of the boys returned to Viking to say their goodbyes to a man whose drive shaped their storied lives.

It's been 34 years since the Sutters' assault on pro hockey began with Brian's invitation to a Tier II camp in Red Deer. It was there, on the steps of an arena more than two hours from home, Louis dropped the 15-year-old off with this advice:

"Don't call back -- we'll be busy on the combine," said Louis, as Brian recalls.

When Brian got cut, the advice over the phone was to "Get your a-- back in there and tell 'em you're not going home."

He never did go home, paving the way for five others to follow.

"I didn't even think they'd make junior," admitted Louis last year. "But once Brian made it, you couldn't stop the rest of 'em."

Fielding hundreds of calls from well-wishers yesterday, the Sutters leaned on one another in their humble home, trying in vain to fight back tears.

"I told the boys never to back down from anyone and they never did," said Louis, who'll be buried Tuesday.

"But I told them if I saw them not hustling, I wouldn't wait for them after the game to drive them home."

Team Sutter lost its captain yesterday -- without question the toughest loss of their lives.


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