Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Brent Sutter: 2 Autographed Cards

The mailman was very good to me this morning! This is my first through-the-mail success of the year, and it involves hockey royalty - and my favourite Sutter - Brent Sutter!

Kids will know him as the current Calgary Flames' head coach, and the former head coach of the New Jersey Devils, but before that, he was an elite shut-down centerman for 18 NHL seasons who also once surpassed the 100-point mark in 1984-85, with 42 goals and 60 assists, good for 102 points.

Chosen 17th overall in the 1980 NHL draft by the Stanley Cup champions New York Islanders, he was given a three-game tryout that very same year in which he tallied two goals and two assists; then, in his first two NHL seasons with the Islanders, he won the Cup, and lost in the finals to the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers in his third year. Following Denis Potvin's retirement, he was named the Islanders' captain.

By the time he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in 1991, he was the last active player to have been on the Isles' dynasty teams. He finished the 1991-92 season once again in the finals, as the Hawks lost to Mario Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins.

Sutter has also proudly represented Canada four times, winning gold three times at the Canada Cup (1984, 1987 and 1991), and silver at the World Championships in 1985. He has never come home empty-handed in international play.

In 1998, following his retirement, he purchased the Red Deer Rebels of the WHL, becoming their head coach and general manager; they won the Memorial Cup in 2001, which prompted Hockey Canada to invite him to coach the team at the World Junior Championships, and he brought back two gold medals, in 2005 and 2006. Although he declined to coach the 2007 team, he did coach Canada in the 2007 Super Series, which pitted young Canadians against young Russian players. By the time that was over, he had compiled an astonishing 19-0-1 record, a 20-game unbeaten streak.

That's when Lou Lamoriello convinced him to sign with his New Jersey Devils, where he managed to win 97 games in two regular seasons despite an aging #1 goalie in Martin Brodeur, and half a season spent with backup Scott Clemmensen between the pipes.

He resigned as coach in early June, 2009, citing family reasons, but accepted the same position with the Calgary Flames two weeks later, working for his brother, general manager Darryl Sutter. Many Devils fans, as well as their owner, Jeffrey Vanderbeek, were angry over the apparent tampering, but, let's be honest, it's not as blatant a ''fuck you'' to reason and to valid contracts as when Brian Burke, still under contract with the Anaheim Ducks, got the Toronto Maple Leafs to hire his friends as coaches and front-office staff only to switch teams in the middle of the season and magically bring over the Ducks' goaltending coach (François Allaire), #1 goalie (Jean-Sébastien Giguère) and reliable shut-down defenseman (François Beauchemin), whose contracts just so happened to come to an end at the same time as his own.

In any event, back to the subject at hand: a true leader, Brent Sutter.

I, for one, am glad he switched to the Flames. They're pretty much his hometown team (the whole Sutter clan hails from Viking, Alberta), I would rather root for them come playoff time than a team from the swamps in between New York City and Philadelphia, and it didn't cost me international postage to get these signed. They have a goalie I really like in Miikka Kiprusoff, one of the best captains in the league in Jarome Iginla, an awesome guy to build your defense around in Jay Bouwmeester, and they're built to wear down opponents with their maximum fore-checking effort; some teams may have surpassed them in recent years, but their make is the blueprint upon which most post-lock-out NHL teams are made. With a coach like Brent Sutter, it's only looking better, despite having to go through a hard regular season in the strong Western Conference.

And while I'm sure he has fond memories of his 7 seasons as a Hawk, I tend to remember Brent Sutter more as an Islander, which is why I was so happy that he signed both of these cards for me, one with the team's home white jersey (a 2006-07 Parkhurst, by Upper Deck), one in the away blue uniform (a 1989-90 O-Pee-Chee, by Topps) - both as the team's captain. He signed both in black sharpie near the waistline, perfect so to not take away from the original picture. I had sent him a fan letter, care of the Flames, on Friday, January 29th.

For those who are into the History of hockey cards, it is fun to notice that Upper Deck now produces both O-Pee-Chee and Parkhurst sets, but that Topps produced the Parkhurts as well in the 1950s. UD now owns the Parkhurst brand, but it was also licensed to produce its cards from 1993 to 1995, after the bankruptcy of Pro Set, eventhough the brand itself was owned by Dr. Brian H. Price, from 1991 to 2005. Dr. Price also owns the In The Game brand.

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