Bob Suter was remembered as the genuine article both on and off the ice, a Midwestern boy whose easy-going nature was contrasted on the ice by a physical presence that helped the U.S. Olympic team win the gold medal in 1980. Suter, 57, also the father of Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, died of an apparent heart attack in Wisconsin Tuesday afternoon.
Former Miracle on Ice teammate and four-time Stanley Cup winner Ken Morrow patrolled the blueline for the American team in 1980 along with Suter. On a team that was known for its speed and finesse, Suter was a physical presence who did the heavy lifting for the Americans.
“He was just rock-solid, on and off the ice,” said Morrow, who is now a pro scout for the Islanders. “We used to call him ‘Bam-Bam’. He loved to hit and he was probably one of the fiercest, most physical guys I ever played with.”
That intense and physical approach on the ice was belied by a folksy attitude away from the rink. Never terribly impressed with himself, Suter was seen by his teammates and friends as a down-to-earth guy who preferred to be in the background. Morrow recalled Suter never said much in the dressing room, but when he did, it had an enormous impact. After the win, Suter was about as far from a diva as you could expect. Ryan has told the story many times that his father’s gold medal from 1980 would often be sitting on a coffee table in their home in Wisconsin instead of in a safety deposit box and he and his siblings were always encouraged to show it to visitors and even take it to school for Show and Tell.
“He was just a simple, straightforward guy who was a great teammate,” Morrow said. “He was one of the most honest guys you’ll ever meet. I don’t think I played with a guy who was more down-to-earth than Bob was.”
Although Suter played most of the time on a pairing with Jack O’Callahan, Morrow said he did find himself on the ice with Suter occasionally. He remembers a player with an incredible work ethic and a teammate that was willing to play a physical game while his teammates took the glory for their offensive exploits.
Suter never did play a game in the NHL. He was drafted 120th overall by the Los Angeles Kings in 1977 and signed as a free agent with the Minnesota North Stars in 1981, but did not appear in a game for either team. He was also drafted 58th overall by the Birmingham Bulls of the World Hockey Association, but played just one season of pro hockey, with the Nashville South Stars of the Central League in 1981-82.
Post-hockey, Suter was heavily involved in youth hockey in the Madison area and was part owner of the Capitol Ice Arena, where he was working when he suffered his fatal heart attack Tuesday afternoon. He was also involved with the Madison Capitols of the USHL and owned a hockey retail store called Gold Medal Sports. He was instrumental in helping Ryan reach the NHL and was also the older brother of Gary Suter, who played 17 seasons in the NHL and won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames in 1989.
Suter is the first player on the Miracle on Ice team to die. Coincidentally, coach and gold medal architect Herb Brooks died 11 years ago this Thursday in a car accident.
“I’m just kind of numb,” Morrow said. “I feel kind of the same way I felt when Herbie died. I’ve played with a lot of guys on that Olympic team, with the Islanders and in college and you know it’s going to happen someday, but you’re never really prepared for it. It’s a real body blow.”