Despite appearing in just 88 games with the Minnesota Wild, Verbero Owner, CEO & longtime National Hockey League defender Andy Sutton looks back at his time with the franchise fondly.
“It was maybe even the most incredible time in my career even though I was still figuring things out as a player,” Sutton told Locked On Wild Podcast Host Seth Toupal. “Going there and getting to be part of that inaugural team and getting to be around the players, we all came in and we were all kind of cut from the same cloth. We had solidarity on that team unlike anything I ever had for the remainder of my career.
Sutton was not plucked by the Wild in the 2000 NHL Expansion Draft and was acquired in a trade with the San Jose Sharks. The 6-foot-6 skater posted three goals, four assists and seven points in 69 games during the 2000-01 season and holds that inaugural year as an indelible memory.
“It was really special,” Sutton said. “To have Marian Gaborik as a rookie and to be able to watch him take effect, and to be able to play under Jacques Lemaire and Doug Risebrough, these legends of the game. It was iconic and far more meaningful now to me than I think it was at the time when I was 24 years old. In retrospect, it was absolutely spectacular. To get to go into the brand new Xcel Energy Center to get integrated with the fans who were frothing at the mouth to get their team back and be able to be part of that culture was a spectacular experience.”
Sutton was thankful for his time with the club because it had a major impact on the rest of his NHL career.
“When I got into Minnesota, I came in as a defenseman and had an identity crisis early in my career. I thought I’d be able to fight and do all kinds of things and I think that compromised the caliber of my play,” Sutton said.
“Jacques and the crew there tried to turn me into a forward. I had just an overwhelming understanding that for me to make it in the NHL and have a long career, I needed to be a defenseman. I told Mike Ramsey, the D coach at the time, that I thought I needed to be a D in the NHL to endure and have a successful career. He looked me square in the face and he said, ‘You’ll never be a defenseman in this league.’ That was the fuel I needed at that time to say, ‘Look, this isn’t a good fit for me. This isn’t working out for me, I need to go in and speak to Doug Risebrough to see what’s possible for me.’”
Sutton requested a trade from Minnesota and was granted one by former Wild Executive Vice President & General Manager Risebrough.
“He traded me to Atlanta seven days later. I’ll never forget that and I’ll always feel thankful for that,” Sutton said.
“He did and because of that, I was able to establish the self-confidence to know that I can do it. When you know you’re going out against the other team’s top lines, and your job is to shut them down, I relished the responsibility. From there, I was able to really round out my game offensively and defensively, and I think that’s the place where it all took shape for me.”