RALEIGH — In 2007, when Brandon Sutter was a first-round draft pick of the Carolina Hurricanes, Brent Sutter was one proud, beaming father.
"The last thing I ever could have imagined," Brent Sutter said Monday, "would be that two years later I'd be coaching in the National Hockey League and coaching against him."
So it will be tonight. Brent Sutter, the second-year coach of the New Jersey Devils, will bring his team into the RBC Center to face the Canes. On the ice for Carolina at times will be No. 16, "Sutter" on his sweater, a rookie center trying to beat the Devils.
"I'm not sure I'm going to like it," Brent Sutter said. "To be honest, I'm not going to like it.
"He's worked hard, he's playing in the NHL, he's living out a dream and I'm proud of him. But for both of us it's a weird situation. It's a new experience for us."
Brandon Sutter also used the word "weird" to describe tonight's game. Another was "interesting."
In 2007, Brandon Sutter was playing junior hockey for the Red Deer Rebels in the Western Hockey League. His father was the coach. Brandon also played for his dad in the 2007 Super Series matching Canada and Russia's under-20 teams.
And now? "It's pretty crazy how the hockey world works," Brandon said.
It's not a first. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, father has faced son four times in the NHL, coach versus player: Andy Murray and Brady Murray, Rik Wilson and Landon Wilson, Bill Dineen and Gord Dineen, and Bob Johnson and Mark Johnson.
Nor is Sutter vs. Sutter a rarity. Brent is one of six brothers who played in the NHL.
"A very, very competitive group, and I think that translates into everything they do," Canes coach Paul Maurice said.
The Canes' Eric Staal knows about playing against family with two younger brothers in the league -- Jordan with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc with the New York Rangers. Their on-ice battles have been intense.
"I don't know what it would be like to play with your dad on the other side as the coach," Staal said, smiling. "I'm sure it will be different for Brandon but I'm sure he will be ready to go and fired up.
"I know when I play my brothers it adds another element and a little more excitement to the game. It'll be fun for him."
The Sutters talk daily, and Brandon said the message, the fatherly advice, often is the same.
"He's always told me that when you get to this level, it's all about getting better every day, that there's always someone who wants to take your job," Brandon said. "So you have to just keep getting better and prove to everyone you can play at this level."
But there has been one taboo subject in their talks this season: tonight's game.
"It has been a moot point," Brent said. "We both knew this day was coming. Neither of us brought it up. We mostly talk about how's he feeling, how's he playing. Just dad and son talk."
When Brandon suffered a concussion Oct. 25 after a big hit from the New York Islanders' Doug Weight, he spent a night with his father before returning to Raleigh. During breaks in the Devils' schedule, Brent Sutter attended three Carolina games -- one in Florida against the Panthers when several Hurricanes players had their fathers along.
"I've seen him more this year than all of last year," Brent said.
And if Brent is proud of Brandon, the son also said he's proud of the work his father has done. The Devils lost goaltender Martin Brodeur -- a future Hall of Famer -- to a left elbow injury in early November, but it wasn't a crushing blow. New Jersey is 23-12-3 and one point behind Atlantic Division-leading Philadelphia.
"I think they've done a pretty incredible job," Brandon said. "Obviously losing Brodeur, you kind of worry about that, but they keep playing and their other goalies are stepping up. He's done an awesome job there."
Tonight, Brent Sutter said he will focus on his team, on winning. Brandon said he will focus on doing his part for the Canes.
But Monday night, after the Devils' flight to Raleigh, the two did plan to have dinner together.
So who'd pick up the check?
"I think I'll take him somewhere nice," Brandon said with a sly grin, "and make him pay."
Sounds like a son, doesn't it?
BRIEFLY: Carolina Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward has been named one of the NHL's "Three Stars" for his play in three victories last week.
Ward was named third star after posting a 3-0-0 record, 1.33 goals-against average and .944 save percentage in wins over Atlanta, St. Louis and Tampa Bay.
"It is a nice honor but the most important thing is that overall our team is playing a lot better," Ward said Monday. "We're piling up some wins now."
Ward missed four games in early December with a groin injury but has been in goal for 10 of the Canes' last 11 games.
"Obviously you want to be the guy in net," Ward said. "I'm getting the opportunity and things are going a lot better. I feel pretty confident and playing with a bit more consistency on a nightly basis."
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Rick Nash was named the first star and Detroit defenseman Brian Rafalski the second star.
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