Brooks Suter was all smiles, his cheeks red and his blond hair damp from a 70-minute outdoor practice at Minnesota Made in Edina on Wednesday night.
Ryan Suter helped gear down his 6-year-old son by unlacing Brooks’ tiny skates and removing the helmet with a No. 20 decal that pays homage to Brooks’ late grandfather and Ryan’s dad, Bob.
The Wild defenseman couldn’t help thinking this is why he signed with Minnesota in the first place.
“It’s perfect. The Midwest, where I grew up. Outdoor hockey. [Wife] Becky’s family is here. My family, three hours away. A winning team,” Suter said. “Things are good, and hopefully they stay that way. I didn’t do this for me. I did it for my family.”
As Suter zipped up Brooks’ bag, he spotted a “Let’s Play Hockey” magazine on a nearby table. On the cover was a picture of Suter with the headline “Like Father, like Son.” The story is about Ryan following in the footsteps of his father, who played on the Miracle on Ice 1980 gold medal team.
Suter pointed to the article, then lifted Brooks into his arms and carried him into the brisk night.
The image was perfect.
Suter has three children. Daughter Avery is turning 4, daughter Parker is turning 2. Brooks? “He’s my little buddy. I take him everywhere I go,” Suter said.
Golf outings? Brooks is at Ryan’s side. Co-owner of the United States Hockey League’s Madison Capitols, Suter brought Brooks to the league meetings a few weeks ago in Sioux Falls, S.D. A recent boat show appearance, there was Brooks. When Suter stood in for his dad at the unveiling of the new Herb Brooks statue in St. Paul, Brooks tagged along.
“He gets it. He’s in the background and a good kid,” Suter said. “It’s a lot of fun to be around him.”
On Friday, Suter arrived in Los Angeles to take part in his third All-Star Game. Along for the ride are Becky, Suter’s 10-year-old nephew, and Brooks.
Brooks was 4 when Suter represented the Wild two years ago at the All-Star Game in Columbus.
“He still talks about that. He asks, ‘Can I come on the bench again?’ ” Suter said about Saturday’s skills competition. “He’s very into it. He watches all our highlights. He talks about Chicago. He says, ‘Dad, Chicago lost, so I think you guys are still in first,’ just cool stuff that a 6-year-old should not be caring about or knowing, and he does.”
Brooks couldn’t wait to meet Sidney Crosby this weekend.
“But I think if you asked him who his favorite guy is, he would say somebody on our team,” Suter said, laughing. “He knows the company line. He knows what teams not to like — or what team we don’t like.
“He was born there, but he knows we don’t like Nashville too much.”
Several times a week, Brooks skates with his friend, Zach, the oldest child of dad’s defense partner, Jared Spurgeon. Often after Wild games, Brooks, wearing a No. 20 Suter jersey, and Zach, wearing a No. 46 Spurgeon jersey, organize knee hockey games with other players’ children on the carpet.
Nightly during intermissions, in a suite high above Xcel Energy Center’s ice, Brooks plays mini sticks with Eric Staal’s and Jason Pominville’s kids.
On a frozen pond outside their home, Brooks will skate for hours, practicing different between-the-legs moves or celebrations.
“He’ll ask me things like, ‘Dad, how many goals have you scored top cheese or top cheddar?’ ” Suter said, laughing.
• • •
Already in his fifth season with the Wild, after resisting the temptation to accept bigger offers from such teams as Philadelphia or Detroit so he could align with Zach Parise and the Wild, Suter is enjoying his finest season.
The Wild is the best team in the Western Conference. And with seven goals and 30 points in 48 games, Suter is on pace for a career high in both categories. He leads the NHL with a plus-28 and is a Norris Trophy (given to the NHL’s best defenseman) contender.
As Suter prepped for an All-Star weekend that he’ll get to share with teammate Devan Dubnyk and coach Bruce Boudreau, the 32-year-old reflected on what makes him tick.
Suter has created a healthy balance that has allowed him to become one of the NHL’s most consistent blue-liners and minute munchers. His philosophy is simple: “When I’m at the rink, I do my job and don’t worry about anything else other than doing that.
“And when I’m at home, it’s everything but that.”
Family is first. Business is second. With partner Tom Sagissor, the former Badgers forward and president of RBC Wealth Management U.S., Suter owns a piece of four businesses. Among them are the Capitols and Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice in Middleton, Wis., where Ryan grew up skating.
Suter and Sagissor talk multiple times a day. Suter talks daily with his brother, Garrett, the coach and GM of the Capitols. Suter goes over the team’s payables and receivables. He watches every game.
“He is as good of a businessman as he is a hockey player, and that says a lot,” Sagissor said. “He’s a natural. He’s a God-given talent in leadership and thoroughness.”
• • •
During summers on his vast farm in Wisconsin, Suter wakes up, works out, works at the rink, then returns home to work on his land. It takes him 12 hours to mow his lawn, so he does a few hours a day. Of course, there’s a chair on the mower for Brooks. During the offseasons, he doesn’t think one iota about the NHL.
In Minnesota, where he lives in a hilly Edina community full of trees and behind a gate for privacy, Suter’s a homebody and neat freak.
Last Saturday in a comeback win over Anaheim, Suter delivered one of the best games of his Wild career for the perfect culmination to Hockey Day Minnesota. His goal and two assists in a span of 1 minute, 59 seconds late in the third period was the quickest an NHL player amassed three points during a game in more than two years.
It was a cool way to end his 32nd birthday. Suter didn’t arrive home until after midnight. He and Becky had dinner, and then Suter proceeded to clean the garage.
At 2 a.m.
“I’m kind of a perfectionist,” Suter explained. “Like when I mow the lawn, I’ve got to have the nice stripes, and not just the single stripes, I do the double stripes.”
So, wired from the game and unable to sleep, Suter hosed down the garage. With his family fast asleep, he pulled the cars out to the driveway and squeegeed the salt off the cement.
“If someone would have driven by and saw it, they would have thought I was crazy,” Suter said, laughing.
• • •
The best athletes make it look easy, and Suter does that.
He is the Wild’s all-time leader among defensemen with 165 assists, 72 power-play points and 194 points. His plus-62 is a franchise-record. His ice time per game with the Wild of 28 minutes, 31 seconds, leads the NHL and is the most since 2013.
“He’s the best first outlet passer in the game,” said Hall of Fame defenseman Scott Stevens, a Wild assistant coach. “He’s a very accurate, great passer. He’s able to hold that puck and wait for someone to get into that hole and then hit them with a nice flat pass.
“It’s nice to have a guy that’s so consistent back there that I can put out there against other teams’ top players.”
When Suter was younger, he felt he had to eat at certain time, work out at a certain time, go to sleep at a certain time. He used to think about hockey all the time, couldn’t sleep if he messed up in a game.
“Now if it’s a short night or I eat at 9 p.m. instead of 6, who cares? If that affects you, you’ve got bigger issues,” Suter said.
His routine is simple. He tries to eat steak the night before games. He warms up by doing a couple of squat jumps, some lunges, then throws a football with assistant equipment manager Matt Benz.
“Then, I’m ready to go,” he said, laughing. “ I think young guys get screwed up with stuff. Social media, they read everything, and people are ruthless. What they eat? I mean, I ate junk food as a kid. I drank regular milk, not organic. My theory is, if it worked for me, it should be able to work for everyone.”
• • •
Suter has never felt as confidently about a team.
“You go into games expecting to win, and when you don’t win you’re disappointed, but you know you’ll reset and come back the next time and win,” Suter said. “That’s just our mind-set. I’m telling you: It’s a special group of guys. Everyone’s coming together.
“The core guys, the young guys, everyone’s on the same page, and it’s a lot of fun.”
Suter said the huge difference-maker has been Staal. Suter calls him one of the best pros and players he has ever played with.
And Suter just laughs when he talks about the character that is Boudreau.
“Right when he got hired, he had me and Zach to dinner, and some of his stories … I was like, ‘This guy’s awesome,’ ” Suter said. “I think he appreciates us, and I sure appreciate him. It’s been a great relationship.
“He’s brought accountability. It doesn’t matter if it’s me, Zach, Staalzy, Mikko, Granny [Mikael Granlund], whoever he wants to put out, he puts out. I don’t know how he picks it. Maybe he closes his eyes, but … everybody’s buying in.”
Suter couldn’t be in a better place right now. When his father passed away a little more than two years ago, he went into a big-time funk.
“You miss having that guy to call after every game, good or bad. I miss the summertime, spending it with him. And I just wish for my kids’ sake they knew him,” Suter said, eyes welled but followed by a big laugh. “Like Parker, she’s a riot. She reminds me of my dad. Just out of control. Just, a real beauty.”
Like his father, Ryan Suter has a firm understanding of what’s important.
“Bobby loved getting his family together,” Sagissor said. “Sunday afternoons on Lake Wisconsin, on the pontoon, Bobby just loved having his family together. Ryan’s just like his dad. He’s family first.”
On Wednesday, as Ryan watched Brooks skate, there was contentment on his face.
“Brooks comes and watches all my games, so I try to watch all of his,” Suter said. “I’m away from the kids so much. I want to always, as much as I can, be with them.”