NoCal experience helped hone young Flame's game

STEVE MACFARLANE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:17 PM ET

Moving from the hockey hotbed of Alberta to the plain old heat of California was a massive change for the young Brett Sutter.

He was just going into Grade 5 when his dad Darryl took the head coaching job with the San Jose Sharks back in 1997.

Hockey helped the 10-year-old acclimatize to his new and odd surroundings.

“When you get there, you get pretty tight with your team. They become almost your second family,” said Sutter, who honed his skills for six years in the Silicon Valley before heading to the Western Hockey League and then the NHL. “It makes it an easy transition. For me (hockey) was always on my mind, whether I was at home or at the rink. That probably made it easier on me.

“Coming from Alberta where it’s live, breathe, sleep hockey, it was a big difference.”

Not only was the Viking product born to hockey’s first family dealing with the differences in the way the game was treated, he was thrust into a vastly foreign environment off the ice.

Even something as standard as schooling was eye-opening.

“It was like an outdoor school,” Sutter said of the public school he attended upon his arrival. “Like you’re walking around an outlet mall or something. You go outdoors to get to your classes, and your lunches and everything are outside. It was pretty different.

“Our school had a Subway in it, a Pizza Hut, a Taco Bell — it was a totally different environment.”

Those would become staples of his travel diet in the Canadian major junior ranks, but playing in the Jr. Sharks system also prepared Sutter for what was to come when he entered the WHL.

“The first year in the Dub, you get to see all those cool rinks. But as far as the travel went, I was pretty used to that,” said Sutter, whose closest competitors during his California days were in Fresno, a three-hour drive away.

But that was a double-A team. The nearest true rivalry was with the Los Angeles Junior Kings — which boasted Bobby Ryan as one of its young stars — a good six or seven hours away by bus.

“We had a really good team, I was fortunate there, but we had to travel a long way to find other competitive teams,” said Sutter. “We played (the Jr. Kings) probably 15 times a year and that was probably our closest, most competitive team.”

Growing with the NHL’s Sharks was the minor hockey system in San Jose.

Between 1997 when he arrived and 2003 when he departed after Darryl was fired by the Sharks and later hired by the Calgary Flames, Sutter saw a big difference in the game’s prominence.

“As the Sharks got more popular, so did the hockey there. The interest kind of grew,” he said. “By the time I left, it was coming a long way.”


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