Brody Sutter kept telling himself that once the puck dropped, the arena didn’t matter.
It was Thursday morning, and Sutter, a seventh-round draft pick with a famous last name, was hours away from making his NHL debut – at Madison Square Garden.
“It was awesome, probably the best day of my life and something I’ve worked towards since I was a little boy,” said Sutter, 23, who logged 13 shifts in the Hurricanes shootout loss to the Rangers. “To not only make the NHL, but to do it in New York was not only really cool, but an exciting day for my family and I.”
Following the game, Carolina activated Jeff Skinner from its crowded list of injured reserves and reassigned Sutter to the Charlotte Checkers just in time for its home opener at Time Warner Cable Arena on Friday.
Less than 24 hours removed from centering the Canes' fourth line, Sutter found himself paired with youngsters Alex Aleardi and Phil Di Giuseppe, again reminding himself that once the puck dropped, the arena doesn't matter.
After using the first period to get his legs under him, Sutter broke into the offensive zone, collected a rebound, and sent a quick shot past Grand Rapids goalie Petr Mrazek for the Checkers’ lone goal in a 2-1 loss in front of a home-town crowd of 7,277.
“Hockey is hockey,” Sutter said. “You have to come and compete every night. It doesn’t matter if it’s NHL, AHL, juniors, or college. Obviously, it’s a little bit bigger of a stage up top and it’s a little bit faster. But, like I said, once the puck drops, it’s still hockey and you’ve got to be able to compete and win your battles and help the team win.”
Friday night was a solid showing for Sutter (three shots on net) – who played 69 games for the Checkers last season and set career highs in games, goals (8), assists (20) and points (28) – but almost no one else, with the Checkers getting outshot 43-19.
Charlotte – which surrendered Grand Rapids nine power plays -- allowed the go-ahead goal at 0:46 of the third while playing a man down, when Teemu Pulkkinen found the open net above the right blocker of Drew MacIntyre (41 of 43 saves).
“I think if we cut down on some shots against and some penalties we might be a little fresher to play the other way, but right now we’re killing ourselves with too much time in our end killing penalties and soft plays,” Checkers coach Jeff Daniels said.
Charlotte did what it could to try to even the score in the third period, but was still outshot 16-8 in the frame and ultimately fell to 1-3-0 on the season.
The Checkers will have a chance for redemption on Saturday at 7 p.m. when the two teams face off once more before Grand Rapids heads out of town.
Carolina coach Bill Peters “said I should get another chance up there at some point this season, so that’s encouraging and it was a good first step,” said Sutter. “But we’ve got to execute better on our breakout. There are not too many positives when you get outshot 38-20 or whatever it was at home. We need to be better and we’ll make sure we are tomorrow.”