Kings Coach Darryl Sutter is never down on the farm

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Darryl Sutter

Kings Coach Darryl Sutter smiles at his Viking, Alberta ranch where neighbors and family gathered for a party with the Stanley Cup. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / August 16, 2014)

FROM VIKING, Canada

The road to the heart of hockey's greatest team is covered in gravel and clouded in dust.

The road is bumpy, barren, stretching out from a town with no stoplights into a vast and desolate countryside blanketed in an interminable silence interrupted by the occasional chirping from a tree or rumbling of a train.

Make a left on Range Road 120, bounce past Township Road 472, continue rattling through holes that shake tires and giant insects that splatter across windshields. Stop in front of a narrow driveway that leads back to a cluster of trees, barns and bales. Make a right turn at a metal sign stuck in a rusted wagon, its wrought-iron letters distinct and startling.

The Sutter's.

Yeah, it's him.

Grass flattens and rocks spit as a car slowly crunches up the driveway and into a parking spot in a ditch. The door is opened into thick air cut by the twang of an accordion, laughter of children and the swatting of mosquitoes.

He's up there on the right, sitting on the back porch of a tree-shrouded modern house, right next to his mother's house, a few yards away from his childhood barn, the totality of his 56 years spread around him like a piece of Canadian prairie heaven.

The Kings' king is a farmer, dressed in checkered shirt and jeans shorts, clutching a cold Molson's in his giant hand, leaning back in a rickety lawn chair, slipping off his suede loafers, smiling as bright as the Stanley Cup, which happens to be sitting on a card table back by the horses.

"Look, shhh," Darryl Sutter says in a loud whisper, pointing toward a buzz in grove of trees. "A hummingbird."

That is not a quote you've heard in his infamously mumbled news conferences. That is not a smile you've seen from his infamously stern game face. This is not the Darryl Sutter who has been perceived as a distant and forbidding taskmaster while leading the Kings to two Stanley Cup championships in three years.

"Nope," says his brother Brian during Sutter's combination Stanley Cup celebration/potluck supper earlier this month. "This is the real Darryl."

The Cup arrived in Viking on a Friday evening and spent the night in the bedroom of Sutter's 21-year-old son Chris. Then, on a steamy Saturday, it embarked on a daylong tour that mirrored the life of the man it was honoring.

Understated, enduring, emotional and occasionally draped in hay.

::

The population of Viking, a grassy speck in central Alberta, is 1,041 people, one giant hockey stick, and one giant puck. The wooden stick and attached puck stand guard in front of the doughnut and sandwich shop at the entrance of town.

"Welcome to Viking, Home of the Sutters" it reads.

Several miles north of here, on a 3,000-acre farm, is where Louis and Grace Sutter raised one of the most accomplished families in sports history. They had seven boys, six of whom played in the NHL. Brent, Brian, Darryl, Duane, Rich and Ron combined to play nearly 5,000 games and win the Stanley Cup six times as players. Darryl is the only one to win it as a coach, but he's famous around here not for what he did, but what he didn't do. He didn't leave.

"Darryl stayed on the family farm, which is what our father always wanted us to do," Brian says. "We weren't raised to be hockey players, we were raised to be farmers."

Darryl stayed here, herds cattle here, drives a tractor here, works the farm like he works his hockey team. Then he hangs out in town like any other local farmer, driving into the five-block main drag most days to pick up his mail at the Java Blossom florist/coffee shop run by the wife of best friend Kevin "Weasel" Squair, then maybe making a stop at the weathered bar next to the gas station for a beer and plate of wings.

"People who aren't from here sometimes ask me if I ever see Darryl," says Debbie White, a longtime resident. "I'm always like, well, um, I saw him yesterday."

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