NASHVILLE – When the Suters gather together and talk turns to Olympic hockey, Bob has top bragging rights with his gold medal from the 1980 Miracle on Ice in Lake Placid. Brother Gary antes up with his silver from Salt Lake City in 2002.
Now it’s time for another Suter – Ryan, Bob’s son – to join the conversation.
Born almost five years after his father helped stun the world, Ryan will be taking his place with Team U.S.A. in Vancouver. The Nashville Predators’ defenceman is an alternate captain, and he insists there’s no pressure at all trying to live up to family tradition in the Winter Olympics.
“It’s motivation to go out there and play as hard as you can so you can win the gold medal,” Ryan said.
Uncle Gary would love to see his nephew bring home gold to help shut up Bob.
“I hear it all the time he won a gold, I won a silver. I hope Ryan can win a gold to knock him off. We’re always just joking back and forth,” Gary Suter said. “It’s going to be really tough because there’s a lot of great teams. But nobody expected the ’80 team to do anything. I think the chances of 2010 going into the Olympics are better than they were in 1980.”
Bob has the gold medal, but he said his brother and son have their own edge having played in the NHL.
“They have the money,” Bob said.
Playing hockey is what the Suters do, from the time they’re old enough to hold a stick in one hand and wear skates. Ryan grew up loving hockey just as his father and uncles did, shovelling snow off the lake behind the family home in Madison, Wis., to play with cousins and friends or banging pucks off the garage door.
His father’s gold medal was a popular item at school for show-and-tell, and not because Ryan wanted to show off.
“The teachers would always want me to bring it. One time I forgot it at school in the locker. It was there luckily the next day when I came back,” Ryan said.
The role his father played in shocking the heavily favoured Soviet Union didn’t hit Ryan until he started playing himself internationally for the United States as a teenager. Credit his father, who has some mementoes around the house but never made a big deal about that gold medal.
“I take pride in it definitely. You keep it locked up, what good is it really. People know I have it. I’d loan it out too. After our kids would take it for a while, cousins or something else wanted to take it to a school or a friend in hockey, I’d let them. I never really had it in a safe hidden or anything. I still don’t,” Bob said.
Bob never made it to the NHL, though he did play minor league hockey, including a stint in 1981-82 with the Nashville South Stars. He returned to Wisconsin and opened a sporting goods store. Now he also coaches the AAA bantam Madison Capitals with Gary, who played 17 NHL seasons and also was on the U.S. team that finished fifth in 1998 in Nagano.
Ryan was a child when his father noticed the boy’s rare knack of being able to see the whole ice and pass.
“He had that from day one,” Bob said.
A defenceman just like his father and uncle, Ryan went to Culver Academy in Indiana to continue his hockey education. He also became part of the U.S. team’s development program before going to the University of Wisconsin, just like his father and uncle. In 2004, he helped the United States win its first gold at the 2004 world junior championship – beating the favoured Canadians.
The Predators made Ryan the first American selected in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft at No. 7 overall. Currently, he is in his fifth NHL season and didn’t miss any of the Predators’ first 49 games this season. He leads Nashville with 24 minutes ice-time per game with a plus-9 rating and 23 points.
Nashville coach Barry Trotz calls Ryan a great skater and passer who also uses his six-foot-one, 198-pound body to separate opponents from the puck.
“I think Ryan is really proud of the legacy his family has,” Trotz said. “He also wants to be the extension of that as well. Not only have his own legacy but continue on the legacy maybe for his son or whatever. He quietly is very proud of that and doesn’t dwell on it.”
This will be the 10th international tournament for Ryan, who turns 25 on Monday. His father has tickets to Vancouver and is waiting to hear about plans to celebrate the 30th anniversary of that Miracle on Ice. He said all the hard work and sacrifices his son put in is paying off.
Ryan has plenty of company heading to Vancouver as one of six Predators playing for their countries. They haven’t talked much about the challenges ahead, but Ryan feels ready.
“It’s the biggest stage in hockey, that and the Stanley Cup playoffs,” Ryan said. “I feel like I’ve been prepared internationally, but when it comes to the Olympics, I don’t know if you can ever prepare enough for that.”