Brian Sutter is used to rubbing shoulders with some recognizable names in the world of hockey having played 12 seasons for the St. Louis Blues and then coaching another four years with the same team.
Sutter was named the winner of the Jack Adams trophy as the top coach in the NHL in 1990 and went on to coach another nine years in the league.
But just a few weeks ago he got a phone call to let him know he was being inducted into the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame, joining some legendary sports heroes in that city.
“The names your involved with, a lot of the people I know that have gone in there in other sports from the NFL and baseball and of course the other guys in hockey and there’s only a handful of them,” he said.
On the hockey side of things Sutter will join Scotty Bowman, hard nosed-defenseman Barclay Plager, talented forwards like Red Berenson, Bernie Federko and Garry Unger to name a few.
Also in the hall are Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart and offensive lineman Dan Dierdorf.
Sutter took over the coaching reins at the age of 31 after putting his skates away as a player.
“At that time it was really unique for a person that age to become a coach because most guys, Al Arbour was the next youngest coach and most guys were getting to be 45 or 50ish,” he said.
Sutter has some very fond memories about his time in St. Louis but he also recalls the adversity the team faced with different ownership groups, rumours of the franchise being moved and if the players or coaches were going to get paid.
He said at one point the joke around the league was the Blues were the farm team of the Calgary Flames due to the high volume of trades between the two teams and because of the financial differential between the two franchises.
“When Calgary grew to dominance in the league half their team was from St. Louis and the reason half their team came from our team in St. Louis was because their contracts were up and the team couldn’t afford to pay them and so they traded them.”
He says there was a level of satisfaction coaching a team with something always hanging over their heads and at the same time racking up the wins over those same seasons.
“Over about a dozen years there were only about five or six teams with more wins than us and those were the teams who were winning the Stanley Cup,” he said.
“The satisfying thing about it all was that you helped keep hockey there.”
Sutter says St. Louis is a great sports town and he always felt the NHL game was on par with the citizens alongside with the NFL and Major League Baseball franchises in the city.
“It was neat for us as players because you lived in the Cardinals dressing room, went to every game and your kids went to every game,” he said. “We became good friends with a lot of football players and baseball players and I’d say we were on par in a different way. “We all had a lot of respect for each other.”
It’s still early for speech writing but Sutter says he could easily say thanks to any of his team mates, coaches, trainers, front office people and anyone else associated with the Blues during his time their as they all helped him make things happen.
“They say the sign of success is when you’re with a group of people that nobody cares who gets the credit and that’s how we always were in St. Louis.”
The induction ceremony is in late September.