LOS ANGELES (AP) - The cattle on Darryl Sutter’s 3,000-acre farm southeast of Edmonton need his attention about now. He’s also supposed to be planting oats, barley, wheat and canola to feed the livestock, including 290 calves born in the last year.
“That’s a way of life,” Sutter said of the vocation still competing with hockey in his heart. “People don’t understand that. You just go to the grocery store and buy what we do for 24 hours.”
After taking over the Los Angeles Kings at midseason and initially struggling to reach his talented club, this hockey lifer in a farmer’s body has coached them to the brink of their first Stanley Cup triumph.
Sutter refuses any credit for his 66-game transformation of the Kings heading into Game 4 on Wednesday night. He praises the players, his assistant coaches, general manager Dean Lombardi _ anybody but the newcomer behind the bench for one of the most impressive playoff runs in NHL history.
“My responsibility is not for people to know anything about me,” Sutter said. “It’s to know about my team. That’s what you try to do, because it’s not about an individual. When it’s about an individual, then a team doesn’t have very much success on a consistent basis.”
Farming and faceoffs both run in the Sutter family. Six of the seven brothers famously played in the NHL, and two won the Stanley Cup with the New York Islanders’ early 1980s dynasty: Duane Sutter earned four rings, and Brent Sutter jumped in for the last two.
Darryl never won the Cup during parts of eight seasons as a player with the Chicago Blackhawks, and he fell one game short as a coach with Calgary in 2004. That’s why he’s not on the farm this week, trying to plant grain in soil that’s actually more frozen this spring because of the lack of winter snow, which insulates the ground.
“There’s very few that do actually win it,” Sutter said. “There’s 30 teams now, and it’s really difficult. I know what it takes, what you give up from a personal standpoint, so that’s why it’s good to be here.”
Sutter began his NHL coaching career with the Blackhawks before moving to the Sharks to work for Lombardi, who built San Jose into the remarkably consistent winner still standing today. Sutter won two playoff series in seven years in San Jose, increasing the Sharks’ point total every season, and formed a bond with Lombardi that endured after they both left the Sharks.
Sutter took over the Flames a few weeks after San Jose fired him and immediately turned the Flames into a contender, reaching the next season’s Stanley Cup finals for an agonizing seven-game loss to Tampa Bay. The veteran farmer also got a sarcastic nickname in Calgary for his sometimes-sour disposition and scrunched-up facial expressions: The Jolly Rancher.
He eventually became only the Flames’ general manager before leaving the club in December 2010, retreating to Viking to contemplate life after hockey. That only lasted a year before Lombardi asked him to replace the fired Terry Murray.
“I think I was in the barn,” Sutter said. “I wasn’t shoveling (up after the animals), I remember that, but I had that day. I was probably warming up. It was cold.”
Sutter watched the Kings regularly on television while living at the farm, but not much more than any other team. Until he took the job, Sutter said his impression of the underachieving Kings was “the same as anybody that follows the game.”
“You know they’re skilled, and you know they’re really character guys that work hard, so it really hasn’t changed,” Sutter said. “I think I knew that going in, and it’s pretty much the same. I wasn’t wrong.”