Waiting for a good Darryl Sutter quote is a bit like fishing. You might sit on the boat for days and not catch anything, but when there’s a tug on the line, it can be a big catch… Of course, a big talking point over the past couple days has been whether players should be forced to wear helmets during pregame warmups. Edmonton’s Taylor Hall suffered a nasty cut this week when, sans helmet, he slipped and was sliced by a teammate. It’s a shooting-star controversy, one that will disappear in a few days, but it’s relevant to the Kings because, of late, almost all of them have been going through warmups without helmets. Sutter, known as a hard-nosed player during eight seasons as a forward for the Chicago Blackhawks, was asked about Hall’s accident and players going without helmets and came up with this gem…
SUTTER: “They can wear wigs and sunglasses. I don’t care, as long as they’re ready. It doesn’t bother me, one way or the other. … It’s isolated, once a year, and it happened to be one of the game’s great young players.’’
Safe to say, Sutter won’t be asking the players to put helmets on any time soon…
SUTTER: “I still like the players having an identity. I do. I think that’s still really important in the game. I think it’s important that you grandfather the (face) shields in, because the kids grow up with the shields. But I still think that identity, and people seeing the players, I still think there’s something there to that. And I like that. Quite honest, as hard as we push them to be ready and prepared, for some of those guys, it’s a cool thing for them, because it’s the only time they get to do it. Even in practice, the first thing you do as a coach, when you step on the ice, you tell them to do their straps up. Same thing you tell your children. `Do your straps up.’ So it’s the same thing. It’s the only time. It’s 16, 18 minutes. I would hate to deny them of that. I know there’s team rules and things like that, and if it came from an ownership, management standpoint, then fine, but from a coaching standpoint, I’m kind of uncomfortable with that.’’
In recent games, the only Kings wearing helmets in warmups (other than the two goalies) have been Dustin Brown, Andrei Loktionov and Slava Voynov. If any King would have second thoughts, it would probably be Willie Mitchell, who has been outspoken about player protection since he suffered a major concussion two seasons ago, but Mitchell said the Kings don’t plan to change anything.
MITCHELL: “It’s like back in the old days. To be honest with you, when you’re out there without protection, I think everyone is more cautious about the things you’re doing. Before, guys felt invincible. It’s like driving around in a big, huge Hummer, as opposed to a small Euro-sized car. You feel invincible in the Hummer. It’s the same thing with hockey, I think. I’m a traditionalist that way. I’ve always said that the shoulder pads have gotten too big, and that’s why you have all these head injuries. Before, you could hit hard but you couldn’t hit super, super hard, because you didn’t have enough gear on and you would separate your shoulder.
“So it’s the same thing with the helmets. I think when you’re out there like that, guys are so cautious that they don’t have it on, so they have that respect for each other, so you don’t see that stuff happen. We’ve had a pretty good record without the lids, that’s for sure. It’s kind of something that guys talked about one day and said, `Hey, we’ve got to get a little bit of swagger back into our game.’ It wasn’t so much about anything else, except, `Hey, we’re a good team, let’s get that swagger.’ Not cocky. I don’t like using `cocky,’ because you carry yourself in an arrogant way when you’re cocky, but swagger is a confidence. No lids, and we’ve had a pretty good record since, so we’ll be sticking with it.’’
Back to Sutter, he’s no stranger to major head injuries. During the 1983-84 season, he was hit by a slap shot from teammate Doug Wilson. Sutter fractured his left cheekbone and had damage to his eye, but missed only 18 games.
SUTTER: “I got a football (face mask) from Mike Ditka, from the Bears. That was before all this new Plexiglass and all this stuff. I either had to get Joe Girardi’s catching mask or something from the Bears. It was either the Cubs or the Bears. That’s what I got. That was hard.
“You had a handful of guys that didn’t wear helmets on your team, so anything you did that (required) face protection, you were improvising, because you didn’t have it. You didn’t have access to it. Very seldom did anybody ever put a… I can’t remember if there was ever, there might have been a European player coming over that had a shield, but if somebody was hurt, usually they wore a screen or a football (grill).’’
It was suggested to Sutter that playing with the oversized face grill must have made it difficult to play the puck.
SUTTER: “Guys like me, it was just hard anyways. I probably would have been better blindfolded.’’