Playing big was never a problem for retired NHL veteran Andy Sutton. The 6-foot-6, 250-pound defenceman played a fearless style of game, blocking shots, making big hits, and standing up for himself and teammates. Thinking big was never a problem either, giving Sutton the confidence to forge a lengthy 676-game NHL career spanning 13 years and seven teams after not being drafted at 18 years old.
That same thought process and competitive drive also helped guide him to a second career, in business, with his new hockey company Verbero. A Latin meaning of hammer, beat, scourge, and drum encompasses the word “Verbero” as a perfect fit for hockey fans that saw his career.
Getting to The Show The Long Way
After playing minor hockey in London, Ontario and then attending high school in hockey-rich Kingston, Ontario, Sutton was originally never scouted as a potential NHL player. Following a 1992-93 season of Junior “B” hockey with the Gananoque Islanders, he toiled in the Metro Toronto Junior Hockey League with the St. Mike’s Buzzers for the 1993-94 season. His continued improvement on the ice led to an NCAA scholarship at Michigan Tech, where he would study engineering over four years. Little was known how beneficial that education would become later in life during a second career.
During his four seasons of college hockey, Sutton would evolve as a player. Willing to try anything with a constant drive to improve, he’d even switch positions from forward to defence for the Huskies. His fourth season, while playing from the backend, saw an incredible jump in production. After three seasons of scoring no more than two goals and nine points, he erupted for 16 goals and 40 points in 32 games during the 1997-98 season, winning WCHA Defensive Player of the Year.
NHL Career Begins in San Jose
After his final college game in 1998, an opportunity to pursue a career in pro hockey became available. With multiple NHL teams’ offers now coming his way, the then blossoming free agent chose to sign with the San Jose Sharks and reported to their AHL affiliate Kentucky Thourougblades. Dressing for seven games at the end of the 1997-98 AHL season, Sutton took it as a quick lesson on what he needed to do to make the NHL. He knew he would need to draw upon his size and play a rough game for continued success.
Playing NCAA hockey versus Major Junior “A” didn’t necessarily provide a great training ground for someone who was now dropping the gloves with pro players in the AHL. Still, he was ready and willing to protect his teammates and returned in 1998-99 with a determined attitude to carve a niche for himself as a larger-size player.
The defenceman made his NHL debut with the Sharks on Oct. 20, 1998, appearing in 31 games, splitting time in San Jose and Kentucky during the 1998-99 season, registering his first career point (assist) on Feb. 8, 1999, against the Phoenix Coyotes. Sutton scored his first NHL goal on Oct. 14, 1999, versus the Nashville Predators. During this time, the younger blueliner took on many of the NHL’s tougher heavyweights, including Gino Odjick, Tie Domi, and Reid Simpson.
Over the next 11 seasons, the journeyed rearguard played for six more teams as a member of the Minnesota Wild, Atlanta Thrashers, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Anaheim Ducks, and finishing his career with the Edmonton Oilers (from ‘The reformed Andy Sutton: a decent catch at the NHL’s trade deadline’, Edmonton Journal, 7/9/12). Sutton also played in Switzerland during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. The 2005-06 season with the Thrashers was his statistical best, setting career-highs with 76 games played and 25 points.
Verbero Fits Together
Before the beginning of the 2013-14 season, Sutton would suffer an injury that ultimately forced him to sit out his final year with the Edmonton Oilers on injured reserve and led to him officially retiring from the NHL.
During this period, the former engineering grad utilized more time towards the next phase of his life. An opportunity to work in the NHL in an administrative role existed. Still, Sutton decided to focus on his new hockey business, combining his knowledge in college with playing. “I started developing intellectual property in the protective category and trying to licence some of the technology I had developed to some of the top brands,” he said from his new home in Tennessee. This led to the launch of Verbero, a new hockey line of customized equipment and apparel.
A Veteran of the Injury Reserve List
Dealing with injuries was a regularity for a player with a bruising playing style while also blocking 100 mile-an-hour slapshots. “I missed more games to injury than any other player playing during my career and was in an air cast as much as dress shoes,” he remembers. However, Sutton doesn’t recall having a specific plan to enter the equipment business while playing. “It was always in the back of his mind,” as he recalls time healing due to multiple injuries over his career.” That’s not to say he wasn’t always tinkering with equipment and having thoughts on improving it.
For a player who had 14 surgeries over his career, Sutton has a well-earned appreciation for protection while on the ice. “It’s something that’s near and dear to me, and having a vehicle like my company to make some significant changes while helping others is really validating. I’m looking forward to the future and being able to bring a lot of the things I’ve learned over the years to the masses.”
Taller than most players at 6-foot-6, Sutton says it was tiresome finding ways to retrofit his equipment at times. “Beyond the simple weight of the gear, the fit was always an issue for many other players and me. There was a general lack of evolution in the equipment space I felt. You look at the shin pad; it hasn’t changed much in formal-function in 50 years. It’s was time for a change, and I’m trying to push every frontier in that regard. We will continue to progress, so there is even more customization.”
It’s a Team Game In Business
Understanding the importance of teamwork, Sutton has joined with a unique company to offer further customization. “I have partnered with a company, KAV, to help. It is an industry game-changer and the most progressive helmet technology in the world, in my opinion. It’s 3D printed over a 36-hour period and is fully customized, so it’s literally the exact specifications for any head size. From a protection standpoint, it’s unparalleled because of the fit. I am honoured that we can be affiliated with companies like KAV to provide a customization and safety level that hasn’t been done before in hockey.”
An important theme of his company is the weight, or lack thereof, with the equipment. The lightness of Verbero equipment will allow a player to stay at a higher energy rate throughout the game. As a large player, Sutton understands the edge it can give. However, with his company’s customization potential, he says it’s a feature any player can take advantage of regardless of size. “Our whole focus in every product category is about performance and innovation for all players of all ages.”
“It isn’t just taller or larger players looking for more comfort and safety,” describes Sutton. “All players are more prone to customizing everything, and we will offer this approach at Verbero.”
Hockey has evolved with more female players taking to the ice in the last 20 years, and Sutton ensures Verbero is a source for their protection as well. “Concussions are two times more prevalent in women’s hockey,” he said.
Life in the Business World
Sutton has faced hurdles in the business world as he did while playing NHL hockey but understands the dedication needed to succeed. Even during a tough pandemic for all businesses, it is a busy period. “Circumnavigating through COVID-19 is challenging,” he says. “Thankfully, we’ve been able to grow through it. Some approaches we’ve put in place are starting to pay dividends, and word is spreading well about what Verbero is and how we’re different. We are bringing on new brand partners, affiliations, teams, leagues and associations.”
“Over a few years of working with some knowledgable people, I was able to learn a lot about manufacturing, sourcing, branding and marketing. The company is a collection of all the best things I learned so far from hockey and technology, and it is really validating for me personally being able to give back to the game.”
After a career of making the best of his abilities on the ice, Sutton’s found the experience of building a business just as challenging, but potentially even more rewarding, particularly because it gives him the freedom to enjoy more time with family and an opportunity to chase other goals he desires that don’t involve bodychecks or blocking shots.
Life is indeed good for Andy Sutton after hockey. Though being so busy with his company, his golf game hasn’t improved as much as he would have thought, but, his enjoyment in life after hockey couldn’t be better.