INNISFAIL – After a decade of tireless commitment to the Innisfail Eagles Hockey Club, Brian Sutter has left the team as head coach.
The 65-year-old legendary hockey warrior wants to spend more time with his family. He also feels he can no longer give his full commitment to the game, noting he missed only one practice with the team since he was signed on as coach in August of 2012.
“The players make commitments to come and play, and so I owe it to them to be there all the time. I didn't feel it was right that I was going to call once in a while and say I couldn't be there,” said Sutter. “That's the biggest thing for me. I didn't want to say I was going to be there and then once in a while not be there. I’m not that type of person. I know when you make a commitment to something you need commitment to it all the way.”
Brian Spiller, the president of the Innisfail Eagles Hockey Club, saluted Sutter, saying he was a “great inspiration” to the players and organization.
“On the whole, he brought us up a level for playing in management. His expectations were high. His demands were high. And with that, we became a better club and a better organization,” said Spiller.
When Sutter signed on 10 years ago it was a dream come true for local hockey fans. The Eagles hockey team, the oldest senior men's squad at the time in the Chinook Hockey League, was celebrating its 65th anniversary and winning the elusive Allan Cup was the priority.
With Sutter it all seemed possible. He was a hockey legend; a former professional hockey star and award-winning coach.
After completing an outstanding NHL playing career with the St. Louis Blues in 1988 – a career many believe deserves a distinguished spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame - he went on to have a stellar coaching career with four NHL teams, including his beloved Blues. In 1991 he won the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s best coach.
His coaching days in the NHL came to an end in 2005 when the Chicago Blackhawks did not renew his contact. But Sutter came back to Alberta for more top-quality hockey.
He became coach of the Bentley Generals for the 2006-07 season and led the team to its first berth in an Allan Cup championship to claim the title of being the best amateur senior men's hockey team in the country.
The Generals did not win but Sutter, after a brief stop with the Red Deer Rebels junior hockey team, went back to Bentley to lead the Generals to their first Allan Cup title in 2009.
In 2019, he had one more chance for national hockey glory. He led the Innisfail Eagles to its first-ever Allan Cup tourney but lost a heartbreaking final game to archrival Lacombe.
“I’ve coached 20 years at that level, between (Innisfail) and Bentley,” said Sutter, adding he will still be available to the Innisfail team if it needs help in any capacity. “I'm not running away and hiding someplace. I'm still going to be there to help out.”
This year is another important season for the Eagles. The team is celebrating its 75th anniversary. The Chinook Hockey League is back in business as a AAA senior men’s circuit. The goal for the Eagles is still the same. The team wants another shot at the Allan Cup.
With Sutter now leaving the coaching bench, the Birds now have the unenviable task of finding a replacement.
“Brian is a great person. He's a great mentor. He's just a phenomenal coach,” said Ryan Dodd, the Eagles’ general manager, at the team’s first pre-season practice on Sept 21. “Brian has done so many amazing things for our hockey organization, and for our town.”
Despite the loss, Dodd said the team is actively looking for a “go-to” coach to lead the team.
“We have a couple of options of guys from the past that have played here; guys who have coached here in the past,” said Dodd. “And I'm talking to them, and hopefully we'll be able to come up with something real soon.”