SUN Hockey Pool

Passing of tradition

Grace Sutter, front right, along with her family leaves the front doors of the Viking Community...

Grace Sutter, front right, along with her family leaves the front doors of the Viking Community Hall following the funeral service for Louis John Sutter in the town of Viking yesterday afternoon. He passed away at the age of 73. (Edmonton Sun/Walter Tychnowicz)

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:46 AM ET

VIKING -- The timing of Louis Sutter's funeral wasn't lost on anyone: The first father of Canadian hockey, a man who stood for working hard and appreciating what you have, is laid to rest while a squabble between millionaires over billions in revenue threatens to shut down an NHL season.

"It's eerie," said Edmonton Oilers' general manager Kevin Lowe, after 1,200 mourners, everyone from family and friends to farmers and Stanley Cup winners, packed shoulder-to-shoulder in the Viking town hall.

"That's the first thing that crossed my mind, quite frankly. One of the best things I've read in a long time was something the other day about how hockey needs more Sutter and less (other stuff) right now."

COINCIDENCE? MAYBE NOT

Then again, maybe the timing wasn't a coincidence at all. Maybe both sides didn't call the season while Louis was still around because they were afraid he'd get up and kick all their asses straight back to reality.

"Somebody said as a tribute they're waiting to make the announcement till (Wednesday)," said Florida Panthers GM Mike Keenan. "I said they should make it today because Louis for sure would say 'I've had enough of the bull.' "

It's ironic that you had to go to a funeral to find something in the hockey world worth smiling about yesterday, but reflecting on Louis Sutter's life gave everyone who's sick and tired of the NHL soap opera a reason to feel good inside.

"It's almost overwhelming to see the impact that Louis had on the game of hockey," said Bob Nicholson, president of Hockey Canada. "People are here because of the impact he's had on the game, but it's more than that: When you look at a father, you look at his sons and they're all quality people."

That's what made the Sutter story so special. It's not that he sent six of his sons to the NHL (a feat that will never be duplicated in any pro sport), it's that none of them ever forgot the value of honesty, integrity, character and hard work. That tells you all you need to know about their old man.

"They're grounded people who have great values and expect a lot from themselves and from the people they work with," said Keenan. "There's no in-between with them. They're a great example for others in the locker-room."

Those were the sentiments echoed by everyone, from Lowe, Keenan and Nicholson to NHL executive vice-president Colin Campbell, Oilers coach Craig MacTavish, Minnesota Wild GM Doug Risebrough and former Flame Lanny MacDonald.

"There's a lot of people from hockey here," said Campbell. "And the NHL should be represented here, because the Sutters have been so good to the league.When something like this happens it's a real passing of tradition."

Keenan knew the Sutters as well as anyone.

"Darryl coached with me in Chicago and Brian in the Canada Cup. I had the twins (Rich and Ron) in Philly and Duane and Brent in Chicago. They definitely feel like family to me."

DON'T GET THEM ANGRY

He knows them well enough not to get them angry.

"When Bobby Clarke traded Rich away I called the house here in Viking to speak to them and Mrs Sutter answered the phone. I got an earful. That was one of my first introductions to the family. It was a privilege to watch them carry their father."

The ceremony was brief and simple, just like he was. Three of his grandchildren spoke, the music was Back Home Again by John Denver and another song by Hank Snow and the boys sat quietly in the front row until it was time.

"They got up and six of them picked up their father and one of them took Mrs. Sutter by an arm, and in their typical, quiet, stoic way said everything they needed to say in only the way Sutters say it," said Flames president Ken King. "Sometimes actions speak louder than words, and that would be the case today with the Sutter boys."


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