Eager For a Chance to Dance

The days of contesting the Stanley Cup on backyard rinks and the basement are long gone, but that doesn't mean Brandon Sutter has forgotten those times.

The 2009-10 NHL season saw Sutter, a member of the famous hockey Sutter clan, emerge as a true big-leaguer. In 72 games, the son of Calgary Flames head coach, Brent Sutter, scored 21 goals and recorded 40 points with the Carolina Hurricanes.

And for as much as he was looking forward to upping his game for the 2010-11 campaign, the 11th overall selection from the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, still finds himself recalling the times before two points and playoff spots were on the line.

“I think about it all the time,” the 21-year-old recently told NHLPA.com. “You think about all the hours you'd spend outside on the frozen rinks and playing downstairs with the mini sticks. Those were great times. You would play and never keep track of time. You always smile when you recall those moments.”

Sutter, who played major junior hockey with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League (WHL) under his father, still has plenty of reasons to smile.

After dividing his time between Carolina and the American Hockey League's Albany River Rats in 2008-09, Sutter would earn a roster spot the following season with the Hurricanes and respond with a strong performance.

It wasn't always smooth sailing, though, as Sutter's start in Carolina colours got off to a tough start.

After he scored his first NHL goal on October 23, 2008 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he suffered a concussion just two days later after a collision in a game against the New York Islanders.

Sutter returned to the lineup after missing eight games, going on to appear in 50 games.

In assessing last year's campaign, Sutter, who has dual citizenship, but represented Team Canada during his junior career at the under-18 and under-20 levels, walked away disappointed after Carolina failed to qualify for the playoffs.

“It was a long summer,” said the centreman, who competed in two IIHF World U18 Championships in 2006 and 2007, losing the bronze medal game in both tournaments. “It's exactly what you don't want. I took a few trips just to free my mind a bit and relax. But in some ways, not making the playoffs stays with you for a while. You're eager to get back at it.”

Sutter, like he's always done, didn't set any personal goals heading into this season.

“I don't like to do that,” said Sutter, who made his second under-20 appearance for Team Canada at the 2008 World Junior Championships in the Czech Republic, where he helped Canada win gold, overcoming Sweden 3-2 in overtime. “For me, it's about wanting to improve upon where you are at and doing what you can to help the team succeed.”

He certainly doesn't need to be reminded of just how tough it will be to nail down a post-season berth in the contentious Eastern Conference.

Having missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, the players are eager to get their shot at duplicating the Cup-winning year Carolina had in 2006.

“We're a team that works hard,” offered Sutter, who grew up in grew up in Huntington, New York, Chicago and Red Deer, Alberta. “We know what we have to do in order to be successful. And that's to compete hard every shift. There are no easy games in this league. Making the playoffs or missing out can come down to a single game.”

With offensive star Eric Staal leading the offence and shut-down backstopper Cam Ward rallying the defence, Sutter is well aware it's not only that duo which will decide their fate in 2010-11.

“I think the trade we made with Anaheim in getting Ryan Carter and Troy Bodie really helped us,” said Sutter. “They are very solid, hard-working players who add a lot to our team. And you look at someone like Tuomo Ruutu, who is an underrated player. He's a physical presence, someone that can score big goals and provide an offensive spark.”

For his part, Sutter is hoping to see the red light go on more often.

“I'd like to contribute some more offensively,” he said. “It was a bit of a slow start, but I'm feeling good. The bottom line is to make the playoffs. Whatever it takes to achieve that, we're all pushing for it.”

If only it were as easy as the times he experienced in his younger days.

“Those moments of pretending to play for the Stanley Cup were great. But this is what you live for and this is what you dream of – getting that chance to win the Cup. You can't really ask for anything better than that.”

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