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Brandon Sutter 'happy' to attend Oilers training camp on journey back from long COVID detour

Forward Brandon Sutter speaks to media during Edmonton Oilers training camp at Rogers Place on Sept. 21, 2023. (CTV News Edmonton) Forward Brandon Sutter speaks to media during Edmonton Oilers training camp at Rogers Place on Sept. 21, 2023. (CTV News Edmonton)

It's been almost 50 years since a member of the Sutter family first pulled on a National Hockey League jersey, but Thursday marked the first time Edmonton Oilers colours were donned by someone from the clan originally hailing from Viking, Alta., just 125 kilometres away.

Brandon Sutter spoke of growing up a Calgary Flames fan following his father Brent's retirement from his NHL playing career, living at Sylvan Lake and watching his dad and most of his uncles work in various capacities with the Oilers' provincial rival.

"At school, I noticed everyone was either wearing Flames stuff or Oilers stuff, so I said 'All my uncles coached the Flames, so I'll be a Flames fan," recalled Sutter, who at age 34 is in Oilers training camp on a professional tryout in an attempt to restart an NHL career that's been on hold the past couple of years. "(At the time) that was Brian and then there was Darryl and my dad coached there. Ronnie worked there, Duane worked there, so we were always Flames guys."

And while he's gotten a little ribbing from extended family -- six of the first-generation Sutter brothers played in the NHL followed by six of their offspring being drafted into the league -- Brandon says he's simply glad for the chance to try to make the Oilers roster.

"I got a couple of texts from my cousins when I got the tryout here, but everyone's pretty happy for me and getting the opportunity," said Sutter, who's logged the most NHL games of his hockey-playing cousins with 770, most recently with the Vancouver Canucks. "I'm just happy to be anywhere and I'm just happy to be here."

Players on the ice for Edmonton Oilers training camp on Sept. 21, 2023, at Rogers Place. (CTV News Edmonton)Sutter has been out of on-ice action the past two seasons because of long COVID. He had been under contract with the Canucks when he first missed action due to the respiratory illness, sitting out the 2021-22 NHL campaign, and wasn't re-signed for last season.

"The hardest part was just figuring out for the longest time what was actually wrong," said Sutter, who is one of three players in Oilers camp on a tryout deal. "Once I got that ... I was able to work through it. It just took a long time to get there. The last six to eight months was when I started noticing a difference, sort of feeling like myself again.

"I got my breath back. I had this horrible shortness of breath for about two years. Once I was able to get that back, I started training again and just kept improving and improving."

Oilers general manager Ken Holland said Wednesday the Oilers are looking for veteran help at centre, and the right-handed-shooting Sutter fits the bill -- as long as he can work his way back to the level he was at before long COVID shut him down.

"(If he's) anywhere close to where he was when he was 28 or 29, he's exactly what we need," Holland told media at Rogers Place, ticking off Sutter's desirable traits including winning draws (49.8 per cent career success rate), being defensively minded and his 6-foot-3, 191-lb. frame, while "pitching in with some offence."

Sutter, who agreed to the tryout in early August, said he has been feeling stronger heading into camp.

"Over probably the last month, every day, every week, I just feel better and better," he said. "I'm still working through some things, but I'm able to compete and work out hard. It's not really holding me back at all."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Sean Amato Top Stories

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