By the time July 3, 2012, rolled around, the Wild was fairly certain it would land Ryan Suter. Tiny problem: It had yet to sit across a table, look the free-agent defenseman in the eyes and have a heart-to-heart.
That morning, Wild owner Craig Leipold, General Manager Chuck Fletcher and coach Mike Yeo boarded a seven-seat Learjet at the St. Paul airport with Suter’s financial adviser, Tom Sagissor, for a recruiting trip.
Before heading east to Wisconsin, the gents detoured north to International Falls, Minn., where they picked up Suter’s agent, Neil Sheehy, and generously gave him a lift to Suter’s meeting with the Wild and, awkwardly, the Detroit Red Wings.
“Ultimately, Ryan was ground zero, but we were still very confident we were getting him,” Leipold said. “And then, we landed at the wrong airport!”
Leipold laughs heartily after the memory pops into his head. He didn’t want the Red Wings to even know the Wild was coming, so the team planned to land at a municipal airport in Middleton, Wis., which is closer to Suter’s offseason home.
“Somehow, though, I kept referring to it as ‘Madison’ to the pilots,” Leipold said. “As soon as we land, I go, ‘Oh no!’ I run up to the cockpit and say, ‘Hey guys, we’re at the wrong airport.’
“What I didn’t know was my office had already deemed that [Middleton] airport too small for the jet.”
So, the Wild was heading to its biggest power lunch in franchise history, one that could very well land the franchise a minute-munching No. 1 defenseman and … Zach Parise, and the first impression Suter would get was a phone call asking him to drive to Madison because the Wild landed at the wrong airport?
“Yup,” Leipold said, roaring. “And to top it off? Our jet parked right next to the Red Wings’ jet!”
Wisconsin at heart
Suter, 28, is nothing like most hockey players. He doesn’t seek the limelight, nor does he want it.
He might be the son of Bob Suter, who won Olympic gold with the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” and might have grown up watching his uncle, Gary Suter, star in the NHL, but, said Ryan, “All these kids dream, ‘I want to play in the NHL.’ I never did.”
“For me, it was college hockey. My uncle played at Wisconsin. My dad played at Wisconsin. For me, it was play college, work at my dad’s rink when I’m older and then work landscaping with my brother. That’s all I ever wanted.”
Suter turned down more money to play in Philadelphia, the same money to play in Detroit, similar money in Nashville and countless other contract offers to sign with Minnesota as a $98 million tag-team with Parise.
Suter’s wife, Becky, and her family hail from the Twin Cities. So does Suter’s stepmom, Mary, and her family. And of course, Parise is from here, so signing a contract as long as 13 years made every bit of sense.
After a self-described “terrible start” last season, Suter recovered dramatically, forming an impressive partnership with rookie Jonas Brodin to lead the NHL in average ice time per game (27 minutes, 16 seconds) and finish third among defensemen in scoring (32 points). Suter finished second in Norris Trophy voting.