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Former Winnipeg Jet Dies

WINNIPEG, MB. – Bill Sutherland was a former Winnipeg Jets player, assistant and head coach who was loved and admired by everyone who knew him. A Saskatchewan product who called himself “a proud Winnipegger,” the man known as “Sudsy” passed away on Sunday at age 82.

“It’s a shock,” said former Jets goalie Joe Daley. “Billy was a lot of fun, a great guy to be to be around. He was an influence on the younger players and would go out of his way to help anybody that wanted some advice.”

Sutherland was born in Regina in 1934, but moved to Winnipeg to play junior hockey for the MJHL’s old St. Boniface Canadiens. He was signed by the Montreal Canadiens and played in the Habs farm system from 1962 to 1966-67, but was then left unprotected in the NHL expansion draft and became an original member of the brand new Philadelphia Flyers in 1967. It was the best thing that could have happened to his career.

He is best known in Philadelphia for scoring the first goal in Flyers history on Oct. 11, 1967, against the California Golden Seals at the Oracle Arena in Oakland. Amazingly, he also scored the first goal at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia a week later on Oct. 19, 1967. It was the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“Bill was an original member of this organization who helped set the standard of success and what it meant to be a Flyer,” said Flyers President Paul Holmgren on Monday. “He came to the Flyers as a veteran and played a crucial part in leading the team to a first place finish in the West Division in the very first season. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this difficult time.”

Sutherland was 33 when he joined the Flyers. He was 38 when he played his first game for the Jets in 1972. He also played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, St. Louis Blues and Detroit Red Wings.

He played 60 games in two seasons with the Jets. He scored 10 goals and dished out 21 assists and then worked in the broadcast booth until 1979, when the late Jets GM John Ferguson hired him to be an assistant coach. He ended up as head coach for three games during that 1979-80 season.

“Bill was a true professional on all counts,” said former Jets owner Michael Gobuty. “It was a pleasure for me to have known him. He was an amazing man on the ice as well as off the ice.”

“What a great leader in the dressing room with Captain Ab MacDonald and the late Bob Woytowich,” said former Jets trainer Scotty McVicar. “Sudsy could entertain for hours about the pranks he pulled in the NHL and he was no slouch pulling pranks in the WHA. I am sad to say goodbye to such a great man, but happy he is at rest after the challenges of the past couple of years. My thoughts are with his family, friends and former teammates.”

“My fondest memories of Sudsy were not from the rink, but from our summer Jets fastball trips around the province,” said former Jets broadcaster Peter Young. “I got invited all the time ‘cause I was a pitcher and you can’t play without one of those. Fergie, Sudsy, Lyle Moffatt, Doug Smail, Tim Trimper, Jimmy Mann, Duckie (Dale Hawerchuk). We were the dog and pony show around the province and Kenora. but Fergie and Sudsy, after the games, were worth the price of admission.”

When Tom McVie was fired as head coach of the Jets during the 1980-81 season, Ferguson turned to Sutherland and asked him to mop up the final 29 games. That team was horrible and Sudsy had no chance. He went 6-20-3 and was sort of fired himself. At least, as head coach.

Admired by Ferguson, he remained an assistant coach from 1981-82 until 1989-90 under seven different head coaches — Mike Smith, Tom Watt, Barry Long, Ferguson himself in 1986, Dan Maloney, Rick Bowness and Bob Murdoch.

“Sad to see this,” said Les Lazaruk, former host of the Jets pre-game show on CJOB in the 1980s. “An original member of the WHA Jets from 1972-73 and a class act throughout his time with the team. RIP Suds.”

Scott Taylor, MyToba Sports

Editor of the popular Game On Hockey Magazine and The Point After Football Magazine, editor of Canadian Meat Business Magazine, sports editor of Grassroots News, TV play-by-play voice of the Winnipeg Goldeyes and author of the bestselling book: The Winnipeg Jets: A Celebration of Professional Hockey in Winnipeg. He likes virgin pina coladas, long walks on the beach, puppies and thoroughbred race horses that run according to form.
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1 Comment

  • Kent Morgan says:

    Scott:

    I see you say that Billy Sutherland moved to Winnipeg to play junior hockey for the Canadiens. The Winnipeg Sun made the same statement. That is incorrect because he played minor hockey in the North End at the Carruthers rink at Carruthers and Main. The Carruthers group had a reunion many years ago that Gary Whyte helped organize and Sudsy was part of it. We ran a story and photo in Toast and Coffee. I believe he later played juvenile for the Canadiens. Around the same time there was another Billy Sutherland playing for Sir John Franklin and one year they both were playing for different teams in the provincial finals in Brandon. I think one team was midget and the other juvenile.