Brandon Sutter 'sees light at the end of the tunnel' in battle with long COVID

Now 34, Brandon Sutter still isn't fully healthy but is starting to think about a return to the NHL.

Brandon Sutter, pictured as a member of the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo by Devin Manky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Much like the rest of the world, Brandon Sutter's life was thrown for a loop during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The forward was one of many Vancouver Canucks to test positive for the virus when an outbreak hit the team in April 2021. Sutter was able to finish out the season and then signed a one-year deal with Vancouver in the summer.

It wasn't until that August that his health started to deteriorate once he started to ramp up his activity to prepare for the 2021-22 season. Sutter has been dealing with the effects of long COVID and hasn't returned to NHL ice since.

Now 34, Sutter still isn't fully healthy but is starting to think about a return to professional hockey.

“You never know, but I feel like I’m working my way through it and I see light at the end of the tunnel,” Sutter said Monday on Sportsnet's Eric Francis Show.

“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.”

Sutter is currently a free agent, and his goal would be to sign a professional tryout offer with an NHL team during training camp. The 11th-overall pick in the 2007 draft has 152 goals and 137 assists through 770 games split between the Carolina Hurricanes, Pittsburgh Penguins and Canucks.

The New York native cites his children as one of his biggest motivations to return to the game he loves. Sutter hopes to give them an experience similar to the one he grew up with as the son of longtime NHLer Brent Sutter, who also went on to enjoy a successful coaching career.

“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,” Sutter told Francis.

“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.”

A main source of frustration for Sutter initially was not being able to understand what was wrong with his body, as a number of tests didn't indicate any problems. He's still meeting with doctors in Calgary and has taken advice from naturopaths. He has also been in touch with Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who is dealing with long COVID himself.

“You’re not alone, but it’s a rare thing,” Sutter told Francis. “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.”