In sports, there is an old adage that says a competitor should always play for the logo on the front of the sweater and not for the name on the back. It is one of those bits of wisdom, like giving 110% or the fact that there is no "I" in TEAM, that is constantly repeated and now borders on being a cliché due to overuse.
But for Winnipeg Jets prospect, Lukas Sutter, although his compete level can never be challenged, it has to be acknowledged that he gets just as much attention due to the name on his back, regardless of what sweater he pulls over his head. The son of former NHL forward Rich Sutter, he's one of the latest chapters in the Sutter family's hockey dynasty that also includes his five uncles, who have over 4000 NHL games played between them, and his two cousins, Brandon and Brett, who both currently play in the NHL. Another cousin, Brody, currently plays against Lukas in the WHL.
Not one to bow to pressure, Sutter uses the history behind he and his family as motivation to succeed and couples it with the desire to add the story of his own success to the family album.
"It's something you want to live up to," Sutter explains. "There's no pressure to do it. You see the legacy that my uncles, my dad and my cousins have all developed and you want to be a part of it and each and every day you strive to be a part of it. It's not pressure, because it's really the only thing I've ever known. I haven't grown up with a different last name, it hasn't been thrown to me, I just haven't known anything else. So if there was pressure there, I wouldn't know anything different."
Although he has always been a Sutter, in the eyes of international hockey, he hasn't always been considered a Canadian. Thanks to his dual citizenship, Sutter competed for Team USA in the 2009 U-17 Five Nations Tournament in Germany.
"When I was younger, I considered school as an option and I was born in the States, so I linked up with a couple schools. One of the head recruiters for one of the schools suggested to us that I go to the U.S. Hockey Festival and see where I compare amongst that group of guys. So I went down there and I ended up making the team. It was an opportunity that I couldn't pass up. It wasn't an IIHF sanctioned event, so I just went in and had fun with it."
Despite this early experience with USA Hockey, Sutter was eventually deemed to be Canadian in the eyes of the IIHF. In a ruling similar to that of Stefan Matteau, son of former NHL forward Stephane Matteau and now a New Jersey Devils draft pick, it was decided that because the US-born Sutter did not play two consecutive years of minor hockey in the States after the age of 10, he was listed as Canadian. Sutter admits that had the ruling not been made and the decision was left up to him, it would not have been an easy choice.
"Had it not been like that, it would have been a very difficult decision, but I didn't have the opportunity to play for the U.S. in an IIHF sanctioned event."
Now a Canadian in the eyes of international hockey, Sutter's first experience with Team Canada was the recent Canada-Russia Challenge, something that he called a "great opportunity" and a "tremendous honour".
For Sutter, the attachment to the event is more than just patriotic pride. In addition to celebrating the 40th anniversary of the legendary 1972 Summit Series between Canada and Russia, the Challenge was also established to honour the one-year anniversary of the tragic plane crash that claimed the lives of the entire Yaroslavl Lokomotiv hockey club. The team's head coach, Brad McCrimmon was a close family friend of the Sutters, having played with Lukas' father when they were both members of the Philadelphia Flyers.
McCrimmon's father, Byron, accompanied Team Canada on the Canada-Russia Challenge, including their trip to Yaroslavl, and his presence provided an added boost to the team.
"To have Byron on the trip with us, we draw a lot of strength and a lot of inspiration from a man like him. To see what he's been through and see how he's handled it and see how strong he is. He always has a smile on his face each and every morning and to see that strength is eye-opening."
Sutter appeared in three of the four Challenge games and contributed a single assist as Canada went on to win the series in a tie-breaker. The Challenge was also used by both teams as a summer evaluation camp for this winter's World Junior Championship and Sutter has his eyes on a checking line role for the squad.
"I'm a gritty, two-way centre man," is how Sutter describes himself. "I play the game hard, and I play the game from the net out. I have the ability to put the puck in the net every now and then. Just a physical, hard-nosed guy."
Drafted in the second round, 59th overall by the Winnipeg Jets this summer, Sutter is already developing some chemistry with fellow Jets prospect, Mark Schiefele.
"It's nice to have a guy like Schiefele here. We were roommates in Winnipeg and we were roommates for the last three weeks (with the Canada-Russia Challenge), so we've developed a pretty good friendship. I think Jets fans will be happy to hear that and hopefully that relationship will stick for a long time."
In addition to his new friendship with Schiefele, Sutter is also close with Spencer Machacek, who spent last season shuttling between the Jets roster and their farm team in St. John's.
"He's from Lethbridge. He's a few years older than me, but I grew up watching him and we developed a pretty good friendship now."
Set to return to the WHL this fall, Sutter is expected to be an important part of the Saskatoon Blades offense, without neglecting his defensive responsibilities. In 70 WHL games last season, Sutter's 28 goals and 59 points placed him third in scoring for the Blades, while his 165 penalty minutes led the team. Overall, these offensive totals represented a 40-point improvement over his previous season. Although it would be difficult to expect a similar jump in production this year, Sutter will need a good start to the year and an equally strong winter camp to assure his spot on Team Canada's World Junior squad. Due to his late 1993 birthday, this December will represent his only chance at cracking the squad.