May 25, 2012 6:45 pm

The farmer on the ice

Darryl Sutter is in charge of a couple dozen humans and approximately 300 animals. The humans are getting the bulk of his attention these days, as they — that would be the Kings — have reached the Stanley Cup Finals. Because of that, Sutter still has plenty of work to do on the ice. Otherwise, he would he would up north, just outside the tiny town of Viking, Alberta, Canada, working his 3,000-acre farm. Long before hockey became the Sutter family business, it was farming, as his Darryl’s parents, Louis and Grace, raised him and his six brothers in rural Alberta.

Darryl Sutter’s business is cattle. He owns approximately 300 cows and 15 bulls, and also grows and harvests grain in order to feed the animals and prepare them for sale. Amazingly, it’s essentially a one-man operation. If Sutter wasn’t coaching now, he would be planting wheat, canola, oats and barley, and tending to the 290 calves that have been born on his farm this year. When Sutter got hired to replace Terry Murray in December, it took a few days for the hiring to become official. Sutter needed a replacement on the farm, and handed off the duties to his son-in-law, who gets some help from neighbor ranchers.

If Sutter wasn’t still coaching hockey today, he would be sitting on a tractor — “That’s where I should have been yesterday,’’ Sutter said — and farm life is never far from his mind. Asked today, by some city-folk media types, about planting and harvesting, Sutter spoke at length about the lack of snow last winter in his area of Alberta, and how that actually made it more difficult to plant crops this spring. Snow, Sutter explained, acts as insulation, so when there’s no snow, the ground becomes colder and harder, and therefore takes longer to thaw out and be ready for planting. Who knew?

Sutter’s youngest son, Chris, is finishing high school in the Calgary area, and the coach’s family has been trying to squeeze in as many playoff games in Los Angeles as possible. The family also spends time on the farm near Viking, a town with a listed population of 1,041. Sutter offered a total of 1,200, then corrected himself to “probably about 1,140.’’ The farm is actually eight miles outside of Viking, which means trips “to town,’’ Sutter said, meaning “to the post office, pay field bills, go to the bar.’’

Asked what he did for fun in Viking, away from the farm, Sutter could hardly believe what seemed to be an innocuous question. Fun? “That’s a way of life,’’ Sutter said of farming. “People don’t understand that. You just go to the grocery store and buy what we do for 24 hours.’’

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