At the 2002 Washington Capitals rookie camp, center Brian Sutherby stepped on to the ice a much larger and stronger player than ever before. This year, he is a man among boys, and is prepared to take the next step to earn himself a permanent spot on the Capitals roster. Sutherby’s final junior season was not an easy one, making his path back to Washington that much more rewarding.
Sutherby opened the season with an outstanding training camp in Washington, earning a spot on the opening night roster. The 2000 first round pick spent 7 games in a Caps’ uniform before being returned to his junior club, the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors.
“It was an up and down year for me. When I got sent back [to Moose Jaw], it was pretty tough. I only got to play a few games here,” Sutherby said. “I had to look at the positives [of the demotion]. I was playing with guys that I was great friends with for the last couple of years.”
In Moose Jaw, Sutherby had another great season, scoring 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points. He was limited to just 36 regular season games as he was sidelined with various injuries and played for Team Canada in the 2002 World Junior Championships.
At the World Junior Championships, Sutherby played on a line with Dallas Stars’ 2000 first round pick Steve Ott and Calgary Flames’ 2000 second round pick Jarret Stoll. The trio was considered Canada’s third line at the tournament, but played exceptionally well throughout the playoff round.
“I think that all three of us are pretty well-rounded players. Everyone considered us a checking line, but at the same time, we were on such a good team that we had pretty good offensive numbers as well,” Sutherby said. “We all played an all-around game and we’d go hard in the corners. I don’t think we were a one-dimensional line at all.”
“We were a line that went out there, worked hard, and worked well together. We talked a lot, communicated a lot, and that helped us,” he said.
In the end, Sutherby’s line helped lead Canada to a championship showdown with Team Russia. In one of the classic games in the history of the tournament, Russia came back from a two-goal deficit to defeat the Canadians, winning the gold medal with a 5-4 win.
Following the World Junior Championships, Sutherby returned to the Warriors to finish his final junior season. Moose Jaw made the playoffs, but were faced with an opening round matchup with the heavily favored Regina Pats. The Warriors upset Regina, winning the best of seven series, 4-2.
“I think the guys in the dressing room knew what we were capable of all year,” Sutherby said. “There was quite a few key guys out of the lineup, even on defense, so once we got to the playoffs, we had everybody healthy, we finally put things together for a little bit, and we beat Regina.”
In the second round of the playoffs, Moose Jaw played against the regular season champion Red Deer Rebels. Despite giving the Rebels a scare by taking a 2-1 series lead, the Warriors went on to lose the series 4-2 to the eventual Eastern Conference Champions.
“We gave Red Deer a good go and I think we kind of let it slip away. I thought we had them too, but I guess it was a good run,” Sutherby said.
This week, along with 25 other rookies, Sutherby is participating in the Washington Capitals’ annual summer mini-camp. In the past, Sutherby has been tall, but not big or strong enough to play everyday in the NHL.
He appeared at this year’s rookie camp much larger and much stronger than he had been in the past. Sutherby may finally be big enough to make the jump to the next level, to earn a permanent roster spot out of training camp.
“I think last year, when I was here, I knew things that I had to work on. I had to get a lot bigger and stronger,” he said.
“The average weight in juniors is probably 190-200 pounds. Here, it’s 210-220. It’s a big difference when you’re in the corners and in front of the net, trying to work for the puck, so I knew that I had to get bigger,” Sutherby said.
With his third NHL training camp about a month away, Sutherby hopes to make another good impression and to finally earn the roster spot he has worked for the last three seasons. “I’m just trying to make the team right now. I’m going to come in and work as hard as I can and accept whatever role I can get if I get one,” Sutherby said.
Growing up, Sutherby had NHL idols that he molded his game after. He always wanted to be like Mark Messier because “he was big, he was mean, and he could score.”
Sutherby hopes to be a big, strong center who can be more than just a scorer, but will hit and fight if he has to. If Sutherby fits the Messier mold at the NHL level, he will fill a role that the Caps have always lacked. When Sutherby fully realizes his potential, the Capitals will have a very special and talented player to anchor one of their top two lines.