Father’s Day: Running the Red Deer Rebels runs in the family

Take your kid to work days were a little different for Merrick Sutter and his siblings growing up.

They followed dad around NHL rinks across North America, somewhat unaware that doing things like playing ministicks with NHLer Tony Amonte wasn’t exactly normal.

Hockey was the only life they knew. And almost two decades later, hockey still is, basically, life for the Sutters.

Merrick is senior vice-president of the Red Deer Rebels, a role he’s been in for the past nine years. And his boss, is also his dad.

His dad would be former NHLer and coach Brent Sutter, who bought the Red Deer Rebels in 1998 after he retired from the NHL.

After coaching the Rebels for eight seasons, he moved behind the bench for the New Jersey Devils. Brent returned to Red Deer in 2012, at first as the GM and then as coach.

Merrick has held different roles with the team since 2010-11, before being elevated to his current job, where some days, he has to deliver bad news to dad.

Like any working relationship, he’s learned over the years how to carefully deliver the news to a man who most around the hockey world see as an intimidating figure.

“You just gotta pick your spots,” Merrick said with a laugh Friday, just days before Father’s Day.

“There’s days, when you’re involved in hockey, depending on how the game the night before goes, you may just wait a day to relay some information.

“Like anyone else, anytime you’re delivering bad news to your boss, it’s not for the faint of heart.”

Away from the rink, Merrick said he tries to avoid talking hockey with dad, but that’s not always possible, because it’s so much a part of their lives. That includes mom Connie, who is the team’s director of merchandise.

“When things are happening during a season, it’s almost impossible not to. I try to park the work the best I can. At times, it’s hard when you go home: there’s hockey on TV,” Merrick said.

“Because we don’t spend as much time together during the day, you’re in some ways catching up or filling him in about things on the business side.”

While there is frequently tough news to share, there have also been plenty of good times to celebrate. Such as the 2000 Memorial Cup win, when Merrick was a teenager in the stands watching his dad coach.

Or when the club hosted the 2016 Memorial Cup, and the Centrium was packed night after night.

They also spent a lot of time working together to find a way to bring the 2021 World Junior Hockey Championship to Red Deer.

Even with all the big moments they’ve shared, Merrick says it’s the little ones, such as the white-knuckle bus trips through bad weather, that end up standing out through it all.

“The nature of our business, period to period, shift to shift and game to game, the ebbs and the flows of sport, and you live through all of it. It’s a roller-coaster,” he said.

“The whole thing sticks out as a never-ending stream of little memories.”

Merrick said like any family business, there are bumps in the road in the relationship. But at the end of the day, they’re doing it as a family, and most days, that makes him proud to work with his father.

“It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. No different than any kid and their parent. Everyone makes it work,” Merrick said.

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