Defense always has been name of game for Suters

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOODKYOUNGBLOOD@STARTRIBUNE.COM
  • Updated: July 9, 2012 - 10:39 PM

Ryan Suter's blue line success follows in the footsteps of his dad, an Olympian, and his uncle, an NHL star.

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Wild owner Craig Leipold and new defenseman Ryan Suter at Monday’s news conference at Xcel Energy Center.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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It's not like Ryan Suter had a choice.

This was the point his uncle, former NHL All-Star Gary Suter was making. Gary was on his way back to Minocqua, Wis., from Madison, where he'd helped his brother -- and Ryan's dad -- Bob Suter run a hockey camp.

The subject was defense. As in, could Ryan have played anywhere else?

"It's in his blood," Gary said.

He has a point. Bob Suter was a defenseman on the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. Gary Suter played defense for 18 NHL seasons. Ryan has a brother playing pro hockey, a cousin playing at UMass-Lowell, another cousin playing pro hockey in Finland.

All defensemen. Can you see trying to fit in at holiday gatherings if you were a forward?

"He'd be disowned," Gary joked.

But seriously, this is a family tradition. Grandpa Marlowe Suter played semi-pro hockey before coaching sons Gary and Bob. He was a defenseman. From an early age, Suters learn that playing D means playing more minutes. In a sport where so often young, talented players are pushed to the forward position, Suters stayed on the back end.

"This is generations now," said Bob.

So Ryan Suter had the bloodlines. He had the tradition. And now he -- and forward Zach Parise -- have 13-year contracts worth $98 million.

Talk to those involved and they'll tell you Suter is worth it:

• "You're going to see a guy with hockey smarts that are on a whole different level than you've seen," said Neil Sheehy who, as Suter's agent, might be slightly biased. But he wasn't alone.

• "His poise level is top of the charts," Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher said. "There are not many defensemen in the game that think the game at his level."

• "He is the full package," said Parise, who played against Suter both at the youth level and in high school, when Parise was at Shattuck St. Mary's and Suter was at Culver Academy in Indiana.

What gives Suter such impact is his ability to gauge a situation -- see what a game, a period or a shift needs. He has the skating ability to shut down a forward or break out of a zone. His passing ability will be key to the Wild's transition game, something sorely lacking in recent seasons. He can kill penalties and figures to be a part of the top power play unit.

"Now we have a guy who can break pressure, break a forecheck," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "The way he distributes the puck, the way he sees the ice, he opens the ice up. He draws players to him, then gets the puck to a forward, giving him more ice to work with."

Suter struggled to sing his own praises, which certainly is another asset. He grew up with an Olympian as a father and a youth coach and uncle he grew up idolizing.

"I would love to have that kind of career, for sure," he said.

He appears on the path. He doesn't have the offensive numbers Gary had, but observers see an offensive upside.

"He's very smart," Bob Suter said. "He sees the ice, he makes quick decisions. And he's a great passer; his head is always up."

But his feet remain on the ground. And that's what his dad's most proud of. "He has stayed pretty level-headed," Bob said.

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