“I’d only ever watched pro hockey — I’d never watched minor hockey,” Sutter recalled, Wednesday. “So I was hitting people. My mom almost pulled me off the ice. I just remember her screaming at me my very first game. Because there were no refs and I thought I could do whatever I wanted on the ice.”
So his mom threatened him with the one thing that’ll get a Sutter’s undivided attention.
“She told me if I did that again I wasn’t going to get to play hockey anymore,” Sutter said. “So I learned my lesson real fast.”
He’s been learning them ever since.
Sutter may still be just 18, but the native of Lethbridge, Alta., Winnipeg’s second-round pick at this year’s NHL draft, has an advantage over the rest of the Jets prospects at this week’s development camp.
When you’re a Sutter boy, if you don’t come out of the womb with a hockey stick in your hand, somebody will put one there before you’ve filled your first diaper.
When you’re a Sutter, you grow up immersed in the game at the highest levels. Sutter’s dad and five uncles (Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane and Ron) combined to play nearly 5,000 NHL games. Three cousins are either in or on the cusp of the NHL.
“Just the fact you come from the bloodlines he comes from and being around it all the time ... it’s certainly an advantage for him,” Jets head coach Claude Noel said.
Sutter grew up around the Minnesota Wild, whom his dad worked for after his 12-year playing career.
“It was everything,” Sutter said of the game’s place in the home. “You learn what it takes to be a pro at a very young age. That’s been invaluable to me. It wasn’t really a choice. I’d grown up around it so long, it was all I’d ever known.”
With the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades last season, Sutter made the leap from four goals to 28, from 19 points to 59, honing skills he first developed on the concrete floor of a basement storage room at his Lethbridge home.
“When I turned about eight... the storage room turned into my bedroom, so I lost that,” he said. “But we poured a cement pad in the back yard and that kind of took over.”
Look at Sutter’s stats line — 165 penalty minutes last season — and you think, “Typical, sandpapery Sutter.”
But really look at him, and you see something else.
As Brandon Wheat Kings GM Kelly McCrimmon, watching from the stands, said Wednesday, he’s “a thicker build,” at 6-foot-0, 215 pounds.
That’s a lot of sandpaper.
Not enough, though, you’d think, to smooth the pressure on him, given the family history.
Sutter insists he doesn’t feel it.
“None,” he said. “The last name’s all I’ve ever known. If there was pressure I wouldn’t know it any differently, because it’s been there since I was six, seven, eight years old.”
All right, then how about expectation? I mean, a Sutter who chooses hockey has to make it all the way to the NHL, right?
“I don’t think we have to make it. But it’s all I’ve ever known,” he said. “There’s nothing else I’d rather be doing. You’ll do whatever it takes to get there.”
Sutter’s best attribute is his competitiveness, said McCrimmon.
And while he’s not the best skater in camp, his background would suggest he’ll work at it.
Come training camp in the fall, he plans to be noticed.
“I’ve always been told to leave a lasting impression,” Sutter said.
This time, his mom won’t be there to stop him, either.