Almost two years after COVID-19 dramatically altered the course of his life, Brandon Sutter still doesn’t have all the answers.
Nor has he been able to fully recover from the effects of long Covid that derailed his career.
What the 34-year-old Canucks centre does finally have is hope – a belief he may soon be able to fully immerse himself in a training regimen that leads to another shot in the NHL.
“You never know, but I feel like I’m working my way through it, and I see light at the end of the tunnel,” said Sutter on the Eric Francis show Monday.
“I’m able to work out again, and just do everyday things. … I’ve been skating a couple days a week with the (Red Deer) Rebels. … I can’t quite do the things I want to do, I can’t quite push it to a level I need to, but I’m getting better, and there is definitely hope it will all be behind me by mid-summer.
“If so, and I’m feeling good, I’ll give it my best chance to go for it.”
Best case scenario, his health continues to improve, and he finds a team willing to give him a look in training camp next fall on a professional tryout offer (PTO) – no strings attached.
“That’s the goal,” said the veteran of over 800 NHL games, who hasn’t played an NHL game in almost two years. “That would be best for myself and whatever team, so I can see how it goes in camp and make sure I’m able to do it. … If I don’t think I’m able to, I won’t.
“Moving home (to Red Deer) with three kids, it’s great to settle down, but there’s definitely part of me that really doesn’t want my career to end the way it has, to this point.
“Any player that has their career taken from them due to injury knows it’s not an easy thing to go through.”
Sutter and almost all of his Canucks teammates tested positive for Covid in March 2021, but despite being hit hard by it, he was able to return to finish the season without issue.
That summer Sutter signed a one-year extension with the Canucks, only to have his health start to deteriorate in August as he tried ramping up for the season.
He hasn’t played since.
While he sees his time at home with his family as a blessing, he’d love nothing more than to share one final season with them as an NHLer.
“My kids are six, four and one now, and with Covid the last couple years they haven’t been able to be around the rink, so I haven’t had the chance to share hockey with them the way I dreamed I would,” said Sutter, who has fond memories of hanging around his father Brent’s NHL dressing room as a child.
“I’d kind of like to have them running around the rink like I was when I was a kid. It would be kind of a cool thing. … So I would like that one year to give it chance.”
He’s still undergoing tests, meeting with physicians in Calgary, and even taking guidance from experts in the naturopath community, who have been a big help.
“You hit a point where you’re desperate and you’ll try anything, and low and behold, they’re the ones figuring it out for me,” said Sutter, whose issues have confounded the medical community. “It’s good to have answers.
“It’s been a long road, going back almost two years now. … The hardest part was it was taking forever to figure out what the issue was, and why I was feeling so crappy all the time. … No one could figure out why I was having these issues.
“When you have stomach or lung issues and you go get things checked out and everything comes back normal, you can’t figure out why you’re having digestive problems or why you can’t breathe and why all this stuff is happening.”
Sutter said only after learning about the immune system is it starting to make sense.
“It has nothing to do with the virus itself anymore, it’s how your immune system reacted to it,” explained Sutter, whose initial bout with Covid had him feeling like he was on the verge of suffocating at times.
“You basically have a dysregulated immune system, as a response from your body. … Figuring out why that happened is the pickle in all of it – it’s the hard part to figure out.
“It’s a tricky thing when you’re talking immune system stuff – it’s not common knowledge to most doctors either, so it’s tough.”
The only other person in the hockey world who could relate to Sutter’s issues was Jonathan Toews, who reached out to Sutter to discuss the issues that sidelined the Blackhawks captain for a season.
“We talked about it a bit, and I didn’t really understand the things he was talking about with what he had going on,” he said. “Fast forward to this year and I’ve kind of realized there are a lot of similarities.
“It’s been good to at least have someone to talk about it with.”
Through a clinic in Calgary he’s since met people outside the game dealing with similar symptoms.
“You’re not alone, but it’s a rare thing,” he said. “Fortunately, no one else close to me, or teammates, had any bad, long-lasting effects. … Unfortunately I did.
“So, just dealing with them a day at a time.
“I’ll just see what my body can do.”