CALGARY - Ron Sutter remembers vividly the only time he can recall seeing his brother, Darryl, cry.
So can Brent.
“The one time I remember seeing a tear in Darryl’s eye was our dad’s funeral,” said Ron of the day seven years ago when all seven Sutter brothers likely shed a tear for dearest Louis.
“Yep, when dad passed away,” added Brent. “That’s just the way we are.”
For 25 years, there was NHL Tough and then there was Sutter Tough. And of all the Sutters who did their best to shield their emotions, perhaps none masked them better than Darryl, whose stoic mug has become the face of the Los Angeles Kings this spring.
But while a steel plate in his face does well to contribute to his expressionlessness, Ron believes his big bro will be in tough to hold it all in Wednesday night when the Kings are most likely to pass around the Stanley Cup — his first such experience in 33 years of NHL involvement.
“Yes, absolutely it will be emotional for him because when we (the Flames) lost Game 7 in Tampa in 2004, I remember sitting with him in the back of the trainer’s room and you could see he was emotionally drained,” said Ron, who is finishing his 11th season with the Flames organization.
“He was no different than the older guys like (Rhett) Warrener and (Andrew) Ference. I remember those three sitting together and it was tough.”
While some have tried in vain to compare this year’s Kings to the ’04 Flames, the only real similarities are the fact both had great goaltending and both had Sutter at the helm.
The sting of losing eight years ago will no doubt make his first Cup triumph all the sweeter.
“Go all the way back to his early days as a player — he was one of the very last players drafted (179th in 1978) so he had to start his career in Japan. He comes back and plays in Moncton, where he’s rookie of the year, has a breakout year with Chicago and scores 40 goals,” Ron recalled. “He lost in the conference finals to the Oilers (1985) and knocked on the door but has not been able to get through it. He’s overcome so many obstacles. To come from there to where he is standing today is pretty impressive.”
Especially since he was literally working his farm in Viking just before Christmas, wondering if he’d ever get another shot at trying to complete the journey all NHLers set out to finish.
“I think I was in the barn,” said Darryl Tuesday when asked if he recalled the phone call from Kings GM Dean Lombardi asking if he’d coach the stumbling Kings.
“I wasn’t shoveling sh--, I remember that, but I had that day.”
He’s shoveled it and he’s taken a lot of it, especially in Southern Alberta the last few years where many still blame the 53-year-old for setting the Flames back years as a GM, forgetting he saved the franchise as a coach eight years before he was fired.
“It would be a huge thrill for him to know where he was in September and where he is today — to have that opportunity and that belief in yourself,” Ron said.
“Just how he carried himself, you could tell he missed it. He was a lot less stressed (on the farm) but when you brought up hockey or watched it, he still had the passion for it.”
That passion will likely soon overflow with the bubbly.
“I’m happy for him — it’s a great accomplishment,” said Brent, who disagrees with Ron and thinks Darryl will remain even-keeled when the trophy is awarded.
“I don’t see Darryl being any different than he is. You know Darryl never shows emotion.”
Although none of the siblings will travel to see Darryl hoist the Cup live, Ron’s kids and dozens of other Sutterites have been communicating with Darryl via text messages.
“He honestly looks like he’s enjoying it,” said Ron, begged to explain how we could tell.
“You watch him on the bench and he’s very calm. He’s told me a million times when I was a player, ‘At this time of year it’s about the players. Throw the Xs and Os out the window — the players know what they have to do.’”
So does Darryl — hoist the Cup and be proud.
And if all that sweat turns to tears, so be it.
Eric Francis appears regularly as a panellist on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.