Sutter recalls a different All-Star experience

Mid-season game was more than just an exhibition for the Devils' head coach

Sunday, 01.18.2009 / 10:14 AM ET / Features
By Eric Marin
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Sutter recalls a different All-Star experience
Sutter brought his trademark intensity to the 1985 All-Star Game at Calgary's Olympic Saddledome.
newjerseydevils.com – Brent Sutter already had two rings and remembers feeling like he'd won a third.

Nineteen-year-old Mario Lemieux scored twice, including the game-winner, and Sutter celebrated as the Wales Conference beat the Campbell Conference in the 1985 All-Star Game at Calgary’s Olympic Saddledome.

Devils center Kirk Muller had an assist on one of Lemieux's goals.

There was no white-gloved trophy presentation at center ice after the buzzer sounded. The game didn’t even count in the standings, but Sutter and his Wales teammates were playing for keeps.

"We ended up scoring late in the game and winning [6-4], it was like winning the Stanley Cup," said Sutter, now in his second season as Devils head coach. "It was huge because you just didn't want to lose to them. A big reason for that was you just didn't know a lot of [players on] the other side."

When the puck drops on the league's 57th All-Star Game at Montreal on Sunday, Jan. 25, fans across North America will be able to tune in to see their favorite players shine in another installment of the mid-season exhibition.

Devils' left wing Zach Parise, who has become one of the league's top offensive players this season, will be making his first All-Star appearance.

Entertainment will be the name of the game on the eve of the All-Star contest, when players take part in the 2009 Honda/NHL SuperSkills Competition. The second installment of the Scotiabank NHL Fan Fav Breakaway Challenge will let the All-Stars incorporate trick shots into their moves, with each shooter getting one minute to complete any routine that results in a shot on goal.

Think Alex Ovechkin batting the puck out of mid-air in the All-Star commercial, only now with a tech twist: this year, fans will select the winner via text message.

On top of VERSUS' broadcast coverage of the proceedings, NHL.com's All-Star page is loaded with news features and analysis. The NHL's online shop features gear from both the Eastern and Western Conferences.

If you take advantage of the league's multimedia All-Star offerings, consider how far the hockey fan's experience has come since Sutter's All-Star appearance in 1985.

ESPN’s SportsCenter, only six years old at the time, was in its nascent stages. The Internet as a mainstream resource of up-to-the-minute scores and recaps was still more than a decade away. Fans could follow their favorite teams in newspaper box scores every morning, and it wasn’t much different for the athletes themselves.

“You played on Long Island and didn't know what some scores were out in California until two days later,” said Sutter, who split 18 NHL seasons between the Islanders and Blackhawks. “You didn't know what was going on in the rest of the league.

"When you went into [the All-Star] environment, the only thing you knew was your own conference and your own division. You played [divisional opponents] so much. You'd go out and make one trip out west to play [western teams], and they'd come into your building, yet you hardly ever paid attention to what was going on outside of your conference.”

Sutter is one of six brothers to have made it to the NHL. Brent and Duane were teammates with the Islanders, while Rich and Ron had early stops in Philadelphia. Brian played in St. Louis and Darryl in Chicago, though Brent said he rarely watched them play because, "there was nothing to watch them on. We'd talk maybe once a month, once every couple of weeks, maybe. But they never saw us on TV and we never saw them on TV."

Playing in the same division as the Flyers didn't mean Philly games were any easier to find on the tube.

"A lot of times you'd get them on the radio some place and listen to the game," Sutter said. "It's so different now, even in your own conference. Philadelphia's an hour-and-a-half down the road, and you hardly ever saw them play except when you played them or when you watched a video, and video didn't make it into the game until the mid-80s, early-90s."

After 1,111 games, 829 points and Stanley Cup titles with the Islanders in 1982 and 1983, Sutter feels that technology has made the NHL more accessible than ever.

"Every game's on TV with the Center Ice package now," he said. "Every night you can sit and watch eight, nine games on TV, and you do.  It's available for you, if you want."

"You go to NHL.com and you can watch a whole game now," he continued.

Sutter believes those advancements have also changed the tenor of the All-Star Game. With players from opposing conferences no longer a mystery to one another, the NHL’s All-Star weekend can be geared toward showcasing hockey’s best talent in an atmosphere that features more celebration than snarl.

The ability to stay "plugged in" isn't a novelty for those who have grown up in the Internet era. Voting online for All-Star starters or keeping up with daily player blogs have served to centralize the hockey community into a tight-knit world of puckheads. Reach for a remote control and watch any NHL team in any city, or sit at your computer keyboard and debate fellow fans in online communities from a continent away.

It's a giant leap from that era before smart phones, text messages and email, when Sutter said less information meant less familiarity with your opponent, and players came out for the All-Star Game hoping to prove a point and hopefully go home with a victory.

"It's wild the way it is today," he said.