Sutter always will be part of family

Kings coach came of age professionally and personally playing for and coaching Hawks

On June 19, 1995, Darryl Sutter resigned as Blackhawks coach after leading his team to the conference finals so he could devote more time to a family that included a young son born with Down syndrome.

At the time, Sutter never imagined committing again to anything in hockey other than the Indian.

"I know for a fact that I'll never work for another club," Sutter said that day, according to Tribune archives. "Once you have that crest tattooed on your butt, you can't get it off.''

Years washed away that sentiment, if not the tattoo. Sutter eventually returned as a successful head coach with the Sharks, Flames and the defending Stanley Cup champion Kings, the Blackhawks' opponent in the Western Conference finals beginning Saturday at the United Center.

But many Chicago fans always will see Sutter as the overachieving left wing in red sweater No. 27 whose leadership skills as a player made him a good fit coaching the Hawks from 1992-95 before he returned to his family's farm for reasons that defined his character.

"Darryl told me for some time he was going to do that and when the time came along he walked away from hockey for his family, and he was only (36),'' recalled Bob Pulford, the longtime former Blackhawks coach and executive. "Darryl has been very close to us since we drafted him in the 11th round (of the 1978 NHL draft).''

Sutter overcame his low draft status to play 406 games for the Hawks from 1979-87 before going 110-80-26 as head coach. Three brothers — Brent, Duane and Rich — also wore the Indianhead and a fourth, Brian, coached the team from 2001-04. Darryl's idol growing up in Viking, Alberta, was Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull.

"Young guy. Old guy. Single guy. Married guy. With children," Sutter told reporters Thursday in Los Angeles about his life changes in Chicago. "It's a great environment."

When Sutter's father, Louis, died in 2005, late Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz eulogized him by saying, "There is nobody in the world with a stronger heart than Louis Sutter.''

The Kings sign Sutter's checks. The Hawks forever will be in his family's blood.

Ambivalence fills Pulford, 77, as he anxiously awaits the series between two teams he coached and follows most closely. Pulford's son-in-law, Dean Lombardi, is the Kings general manager whose risky midseason hiring of Sutter in December 2011 resulted in a Cup title. Pulford, who says Sutter is even a better father than coach, keeps in close touch.

"I told Darryl I'm cheering for Chicago,'' Pulford said with a deep chuckle. "He said, 'I wouldn't expect anything else.' But I respect him a great deal.''

So does Eddie Olczyk, who impulsively showed Sutter how much one day back in 1984. Olczyk was training in Minneapolis as a teenage member of the U.S. Olympic hockey team when the Blackhawks arrived to play the North Stars. During the game, a Doug Wilson slap shot hit Sutter in the face. The force caved in Sutter's left cheekbone and eye socket, landing him in a Minneapolis hospital for days.

Olczyk, who never had met Sutter, made an impromptu visit to wish his future teammate well.

"I went to the gift shop and remember thinking, 'What do you get somebody you looked up to growing up a Hawks fan?' I got flowers and a Sports Illustrated,'' said Olczyk, NBC's top NHL analyst. "He looked like he got hit by a truck. That's when our paths first crossed.''

They would cross again months later when Olczyk walked into the Bismarck Hotel in Chicago for his first team meeting as a wide-eyed Blackhawks rookie. The Hawks captain who greeted Olczyk looked familiar, but with fewer bruises.

"From that very first day, Darryl had a presence,'' said Olczyk, who thanked Sutter during his U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame induction speech. "There's nothing sugary. He'll tell you what you needed to know, not what you wanted to hear. There's no beating around the bush.''

Troy Murray, Sutter's former Hawks teammate who also played for him, recalled the time Sutter used that direct, sarcastic style coaching in the minors at Saginaw to get through to Ed Belfour, a future Hall of Fame goalie.

"He said, 'Eddie, you're not doing anything here so go the locker room and make sure the pizzas are warm,' '' said Murray, a WGN-AM 720 analyst. "He's very demanding of everybody, no matter who you are, but you always know where you stand.''

That candor helps Sutter holds players accountable — and makes his news conferences must-see events. During the Blues series, Sutter publicly challenged his fourth line "to play like big boys.'' The Kings coach was even blunter earlier this season when he criticized one of the team's major sponsors, McDonald's, while discussing eating habits of young players.

"I haven't been in one of them since they cut off Alberta beef,'' Sutter cracked.

This series promises to be as compelling as it is competitive thanks to the King some Chicagoans still consider Blackhawks royalty.

dhaugh@tribune.com

Twitter @DavidHaugh

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