In 1977, Ryan Suter’s grandfather, Marlowe, was part of a group that started the first midget hockey program in the state of Wisconsin — the Madison Capitols. In 1984, the United States Hockey League came to Madison, took on that Capitols name and competed there for 11 years.
On Tuesday during a Wild off day, Suter traveled back to his hometown of Madison, where he also played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin for one season, and announced that he has joined an ownership group that’s bringing the USHL Capitols back to Madison next fall.
“When I heard they were coming back, the more I thought about it, the more I thought it would be great for hockey in the area and a huge honor for our family to name it the Madison Capitols,” said Suter, who leads the NHL in average ice time per game (29 minutes, 35 seconds).
“I thought it would be a great thing for that organization because hockey in Madison is kind of on the decline right now. I hope this helps revamp it.”
The Capitols will play at Madison’s Veterans Memorial Coliseum Alliant Energy Center, where the Badgers used to play, and practice at Capitols Ice, which is owned by Suter’s dad, Bob, in Middleton.
Bob Suter, 56, who won a gold medal with the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, works at the rink daily, driving the Zamboni and sweeping floors.
The Capitols will have a close relationship with the AAA team, which is coached by Suter’s brother, Garrett, at Capitols Ice. The USHL team will send kids down to work with the midget team and the midget team will promote players to the USHL team to practice with them.
At Tuesday’s announcement, 60 children were in attendance.
“It was awesome seeing all the kids wearing jerseys with smiles on their faces,” Ryan Suter said. “About 20 of them were in high school, and they have a chance to be on that team, so they were pumped. Hockey there is nothing like it is here [in Minnesota], but I think it has the potential to get a lot stronger.”
Suter also believes the USHL is right on par with major junior hockey in Canada.
“It is the premier junior league,” Suter said of the USHL, which has 213 alumni in the NHL and 231 current players with college commitments on 16 teams in the league (including the U.S. Development program in Ann Arbor).
“There are 45 kids a year drafted out of that league into the NHL,” Suter said. “That’s pretty impressive for 16 teams. I think the sky’s the limit for the league. It’s a feeder system for college hockey and it teaches you how to play pro hockey.
“This is also huge for the Badgers. They’re right there. They get to watch these kids locally instead of having to drive to Green Bay or Des Moines to scout.”
Every day during the summer, Suter goes to Capitol Ice. He skates with the midget team, works his father’s hockey camp and simply works at the rink, painting walls and repairing things.
“I’m looking forward to getting more involved now that we have the USHL team,” Suter said.
“I love helping kids and being approachable to them. I just love being around it, so this is me trying to give back and a way to be part of the community even though I live here [in Minnesota] during the hockey season.”