By Mike Commito, Sudbury Wolves Team Historian
No Sudbury Wolves player has scored more goals in a season than Rod Schutt. In the 1975-76 campaign, the crafty winger filled the net 72 times, a club record that is likely to stand the test of time. To commemorate Schutt’s lamp-lighting milestone season, we asked him 72 questions, one for each goal he scored that year.
Rod generously donated his time to field all of our questions about his junior hockey days playing for the Wolves, to his professional career, and everything in between. During our extensive interview, Rod opened up about truth behind the story that Pittsburgh general manager Baz Bastien accidentally traded for him because he thought he was Steve Shutt, his tumultuous time with the Penguins, why signing with the Maple Leafs in 1985 proved to be the wrong decision, and how he almost made a comeback with the Detroit Red Wings.
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- Where did you grow up?
Palmer Rapids, Ontario.
- How old were you when you first started playing hockey?
- Which hand are you?
- Were you always a winger?
No, played some centre.
- What team did you cheer for growing up?
- Who was your favourite player as a child?
- What was the first hockey team you played for?
Barry’s Bay Minor Hockey.
- What do you remember from your first season playing for the Sudbury Wolves?
The long bus rides!
- Who was your coach in 1975-76 with the Sudbury Wolves?
- Who were your line mates in 1975-76 in Sudbury?
Randy Pierce and Wes Jarvis.
- What was the biggest factor in your 72-goal season?
I think the biggest factor was the team talent around me and my confidence to shoot the puck when given the opportunity.
- How many hat tricks do you figure you had that year?
Nine [Sudbury Wolves club record].
- When did you first realize you were having a big offensive season?
I think when I started to average more than a goal a game.
- Do you think you will see your single-season goal scoring record fall in your lifetime?
It will be difficult because of the style of game today, but I hope it does.
- What’s your best memory of being a member of the Sudbury Wolves?
The best memory is the fan support and the great friends I developed during my time with the club.
- Do you remember what sticks you used that year?
- What was the best advice you received about playing hockey when you were young?
It was from Jerry Toppazzini, he always reminded me of the little things in my game to get me to the pro level.
- Does any performance from that 1975-76 season stick out for you?
Scoring 5 goals and 9 points in a playoff game.
- What was the best part about being on the Sudbury Wolves?
I think the opportunity to play the game you love at the highest level offered in the country.
- When you were on the Wolves, which teammate did you hang out with most off the ice?
- Who was the hardest OHA team to play against?
I think it changed from year to year, but in 1974-75 it was the Marlies and Hamilton in the 1975-76 season.
- As a player, what did you think of the wolf on a wire for goals?
I don’t remember having it back then.
[You can read about the history of the wolf on a wire here]
- What was it like to get drafted by the Canadiens?
It was bitter sweet. I was excited to be drafted by the team I idolized as a kid, but disappointed because they had a power house team at the time and I knew the chances of making the team was remote.
- Did you ever consider playing for the World Hockey Association?
Yes, I considered it but my agent at the time talked me out of it.
- You won the Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as the AHL’s top rookie, what do you remember from your first season in Nova Scotia?
Probably the best year of my career. I played a lot and had great success as well as team success. Al McNeil was the coach and probably the best one I ever had.
- What was it like to make your NHL debut?
It was very exciting, although I played very little in the first game with the Habs [Schutt made his NHL debut against the Minnesota North Stars on December 14, 1977].
- You were traded to the Penguins, but before you got there you were actually with the Capitals for a split second, what was that whirlwind like?
It was terrible. I was traded to the Caps for Pierre Bouchard, but before the deal could go through he had to clear waivers through the league. It didn’t happen so I started the year with the Caps and traveled with them on their opening road trip on the western swing (two weeks). I would dress for warm ups and then would be disappointed to be told they hadn’t worked out the deal yet, but they were working on it.
- What’s the real story behind the legend that the Penguins thought they were acquiring Steve Shutt when they traded for you?
The real story is just that, a story. Baz Bastien was the Pens GM and he only had one eye and the story started that because he only had one eye, he only saw the last name when he made the trade.
- What was it like transitioning to the NHL fulltime?
Personally, at first it was very difficult. Leaving Montreal where there was such a rich tradition of winning to Pittsburgh where they had a mediocre team that struggled to compete against the Pirates and Steelers for fan support. Playing it to was a change trying to find chemistry with a new team and new team mates.
- What did you do in the offseason when you were playing pro?
The off season was a lot of fishing and renovation to the summer home I purchased on Manitoulin Island.
- What was it like being a Penguin?
Like anyone playing in the NHL, it was a lot of fun. Playing at the highest level in hockey, the travel, the notoriety, it was living like a rock star!
- What was your favourite part about living in Pittsburgh?
The core fans were great supporters of the team and I made great friends while playing there.
- What was the International Hockey League like?
The circumstances getting there was very troubling, but while there I enjoyed the team and management and probably had the most fun in my pro career.
- What were the troubling circumstances that led to you winding up in the IHL?
It’s a bit of a long story, but I wanted to be bought out or released by Pittsburgh before the final year of my contract. They refused, and told me to report to their AHL affiliate in Baltimore. When I reported, coach Gene Ubriaco told me that he had orders that I to was not to remain in Baltimore under any circumstances. Instead, he was told to send me to Muskegon in the IHL, even though they were starting the season with three players short on the roster. Pittsburgh’s hope was that I would quite, which would have relieved them of my contract. There was a lot more to it, but this is the Reader’s Digest version.
- You played for the Skipjacks in Baltimore, do you think Baltimore could have supported an NHL team?
No, I don’t think they could have supported a team.
- What was it like playing for the Maple Leafs?
It was interesting to say the least. The coaching was not very good in my view, and a handful of players seemed to have a huge influence on how the team was run.
- Why did you decide to sign with the Maple Leafs as a free agent?
I felt that was my best opportunity to get back to the NHL, but in hindsight it really wasn’t. As well, my life at the time was sort of upside down. Rita and I had Megan [his eldest daughter] during the last season and we decided that she would stay in Sudbury until I was established somewhere. Toronto was the closest city to Sudbury which would make it easy for travel and visits until I knew where I would be.
- What other options were you considering?
I had offers to go Edmonton, Detroit, and to play in Italy.
- If you could change one thing about your NHL career what would it have been?
I should have tried to get out of Pittsburgh after my third year.
- Why do you feel that getting out of Pittsburgh would have been the right move?
The coach, Eddie Johnston, did not like me or anyone that was brought into the organization by Bastien [GM] and did all he could to bury those players.
- Who was your favourite NHL linemate?
Although short-lived, I would have to say Pierre Mondou [Mondou played his entire NHL career with the Montreal Canadiens].
- Who was your favourite NHL teammate off the ice?
Pat Hughes and Randy Carlyle.
- Did you pull any pranks on teammates?
Yes, there was always pranks happening on teams.
- You had six career NHL fights. Who was the toughest opponent you fought?
They were all tough [laughs].
- Who’s a better fighter, Dennis Maruk or Barry Melrose?
- Who had the better moustache, you or Maruk?
Maruk…That’s why we fought! [laughs]
- Who had the better hockey hair, you or Melrose?
Melrose…That’s why I fought him! [laughs]
- After you hung up your skates in 1985-86, did you ever consider a comeback?
Yes, I actually agreed to a two-year contract with Detroit and backed out the day before I was supposed to report.
- What changed your mind about reporting to the Red Wings?
I think the biggest determining factor was I would have had to leave my family behind. We had just built a home in Sudbury and I knew that it would be a tough go to get back to the show, especially with my back injury and being out of the NHL for the past three years. The experience of the final two years in the Pittsburgh organization had discouraged me to the point that I felt I needed control of my own life. Being a realist, I just felt it was better to get on with my life rather than being bounced around in the unknown political hockey world.
- What was your favourite city to play in as a visiting player?
- Any significance behind the numbers you wore?
No, they were assigned numbers.
- What was the best city off the ice of all the cities you played in?
- Do you still follow hockey these days?
- Last hockey game you saw live?
Seven years ago in Philadelphia.
- Do you have a favourite NHL team right now?
- Who’s your favourite player to watch?
There are so many exciting good players now, but I tend to watch some of the older veteran players more intently. They seem to have figured out the game and it is interesting to see how they log the ice and manage their game and still are very effective. Guys like Crosby, Karlsson, Letang, and Hedman are some that come to mind.
- What was it like to see your nephew, Sam, in a Sudbury Wolves jersey?
I was very excited to have him in Sudbury. He lived with us so it was nice to see the development.
- Should the team bring the wolf on the wire to the new arena?
Yes, I think so it gives the team identity.
- Wolves green or wolves blue?
- What did you do after you finished playing hockey?
I worked in the insurance claims restoration business and then opened my own construction business, SRS Contracting.
- What does SRS do?
We do general contracting work.
- What are you up to these days?
I own SRS Contracting and a second company in the Pembroke and I am active in the day-to-day operations of both.
- How would you describe yourself?
Fortunate. I have set goals and achieved them in my life. I have a beautiful, healthy family.
- What’s your favourite thing about Sudbury?
You can anything you want.
- What’s Sudbury’s best kept secret?
The diversity the area offers.
- What’s one thing on your bucket list?
Travel to Asia.
- You live on the lake, what’s your favourite thing to do on the water?
We used to do a lot of water sports, but now a slow boat ride around the lake is as good as it gets.
- What’s your favorite movie?
No real favourites, but I like comedies.
- Favorite TV show?
- What’s your favorite food?
- Favorite drink?
- What would be the title of your autobiography?
Dreams Do Come True