Darryl Sutter is on the phone from Los Angeles, in advance of his big homecoming this weekend, talking about cows. Sutter is a rancher, whenever he can take time away from hockey, and on Sunday night, he and brother Brent were discussing their herds and how it's calving season. Worryingly, there are some calcium deficiencies in the stock.
It was just one part of the conversation between the two Sutter brothers, as they touched base to compare notes on hockey, family, ranching and other matters. That they will be coaching against each other for the first time in their respective careers on Saturday, when Darryl's Los Angeles Kings visit Brent's Calgary Flames, seemed to be an afterthought.
Darryl's primary motivation in calling was to congratulate Brent on Calgary's big win over the Minnesota Wild, which came two days after a monstrously bad 9-0 loss to the Boston Bruins.
"I said to him, 'Geez you go from getting pounded by Boston to having a 3-0 lead with just a few minutes left – that's a testament to good coaching.'"
In all, the much-anticipated Sutter vs. Sutter match-up Saturday will be the 32nd time in his life that Darryl has coached against one of his brothers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Twenty-nine came against Brian, two against Duane. In 1997, almost 15 years ago, it happened under oddly similar circumstances – Darryl coming to Calgary for the first time with a California-based team (the San Jose Sharks), with Brian behind the Flames' bench.
Darryl last coached in the NHL with the Flames, before becoming the full-time general manager in 2007. He left the organization just a little more than a year ago, officially resigning so that Jay Feaster could take over. When the Kings fired coach Terry Murray last December, GM Dean Lombardi asked Sutter, with whom he worked before in San Jose, to take over. The Kings are 6-1-3 in Darryl's first 10 games behind the bench, and has crept back into a playoff position in the tightly bunched Western Conference.
Sutter never did speak publicly about his departure from Calgary, but on Wednesday, he said the perception that he bore a grudge against the organization was untrue.
"Absolutely not," Sutter said. "You know what? I almost feel today exactly as I did when I first went there – that it's a privilege for a guy, being from Alberta, to coach and manage one of those teams. It's awesome."
As a family with seven boys, six of whom made it to the NHL, the Sutters have long ago figured out how to separate family matters from the inherent competitive fires that run through them all, according to Darryl. It'll be the same this weekend, too. He'll spend Friday and Saturday at home in Calgary with his wife, Wanda, and son Christopher. On Sunday, his daughter, her husband and his granddaughter will be in attendance in Edmonton, where the Kings play the Oilers.
"We were always like that," Sutter said. "As players, we could see each other the night before, but the day of, we never even looked at each other. Usually, we were captains. It was just too hard, so that was the unwritten rule – stay away from each other on the day of the game. That was always the best way to do it.
"We learned in a hurry that you totally separated it out. Not everybody, but lots of people made a big deal because they said Brent and I didn't talk. If they really knew, they'd know that was being very untruthful."
Last Tuesday, on the first Kings' off day in a while, Darryl finally moved into his new place – Murray's house, as it happens. That happens all the time when players get traded – they swap houses as well – but not as frequently among coaches. His wife and son will come down to Los Angeles during the all-star break, but they are otherwise staying behind in Calgary so Christopher can finish Grade 12.
And so this weekend's Kings-Flames match-up, which is a big moment on the NHL's January calendar, is a smaller deal for Sutter, just because he's done this before. Multiple times. Over and over.
"Quite honestly, I'm used to this," said Sutter, who also coached the Chicago Blackhawks and Sharks. "We've already been to Chicago and San Jose since I've been to L.A. Calgary's the only other place left [among his former teams].
"I'm glad we get in the day before. I only wish we had a day in between the back-to-backs, but that's just the way it is. The schedule is still really tough."
Some things, it seems, never change.