Mike Carter drove to his son's house in Gem Lake on Sunday, played with his two granddaughters, then drove as a family to the Shoreview Community Center, where dozens of members in his large extended family rented a hall for a Thanksgiving feast.

It's a potluck. Every year, there's a sign-up sheet, so none of the 80 go hungry.

Ryan Carter, Mike's son, was in charge of chips and dip. The White Bear Lake native and former Minnesota State Mankato forward is thankful he can attend this annual family event after his hometown Wild acquired him last year from the New Jersey Devils.

"We recognize how special this is and we feel it," said Mike Carter, 59, who on Thursday will get together with his daughters, Brianna and Brittany, and his fiancée, Karen, for a smaller Thanksgiving gathering before Ryan's family joins. "When Ryan goes out on the ice, he not only represents the state, what he carries out there is his family.

"My sister, Darcy, is a breast cancer survivor, and she was stunned recently when on the scoreboard Ryan said he fights for her. It brought her to tears. Thanksgiving, Christmas, this is the first time in a decade I can say my son's home."

Family (Mike has eight sisters and two brothers) and the "Carter" name means everything to Ryan's father.

A St. Paul native and veteran member of law enforcement — Mike Carter retired as a St. Paul police officer after 30 years in 2010 only to be lured into the Ramsey County Sheriff's Department by Matt Bostrom when he was elected sheriff — Mike loves watching Ryan play hockey.

Ryan didn't get the hockey bug from dad. He got it from friends with whom he grew up and the White Bear Lake Hockey Association. Mike Carter was a linebacker at St. Agnes, coached Ryan as a kid and hoped his son, a quarterback, would follow in his footsteps.

But Carter's heart was in hockey.

"He's been in the NHL for a lot of years," Mike said of Ryan, who debuted with the Anaheim Ducks during the 2007 playoffs and wound up winning a Stanley Cup. "But it has more meaning for me this year. It has really settled in that he's a Minnesota guy on a Minnesota team. Last year was just kind of off the cuff and unexpected, but this year, it seems like, 'Wow, kids can really make it from here and they can be a part of this team.'"

A forced choice

In high school, Ryan (whose mother, Dana, lives in Forest Lake) ran the 400 meters and was all-state. Because of Ryan's speed, Mike Carter says Ryan was an untouchable football player at the youth level. But his sophomore year, Ryan's football coach pressured him to pick one sport or the other.

"He said, 'I don't want you skating during football season.' He said, 'Stop, or you won't be playing football.' So I said, 'Then, I won't be playing football,' " Ryan said, laughing. "He said, 'OK,' and that's how I became a hockey player."

Carter played collegiately at MSU Mankato and went undrafted, but the Ducks came calling. He played 76 games in 2006-07 with AHL Portland when Anaheim called him up as a member of the playoff "Black Aces," minor league extras who practice with the NHL team but rarely play.

Carter thought he was there to only soak up the experience, but lo and behold, he was thrust into three Western Conference Finals and one Stanley Cup Final game. His name is engraved on the Cup, which he brought to White Bear Lake Sports Center, Mankato Civic Center, Patrick McGovern's Pub and the Taste of Minnesota to celebrate.

In 2012, he went to the Cup Final with New Jersey. He scored three times in the Eastern Conference Finals.

"He went a road different than most, but he finally made it," Mike Carter said. "It's a privilege. My dad [Orville Kenneth Sr.] grew up in St. Paul, and he was proud of everything about it. He was a union guy, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. His name was everything to him in this city.

"He died in 1995, and I just wish he could see how big his name is now. If Ryan's grandfather would have known where Ryan elevated the Carter name and put it on a marquee, he wouldn't believe it."

On the rink

Ryan Carter, 32, has a dry sense of humor, the ability to make anybody in the locker room laugh and doesn't take himself too seriously.

He's not the most skilled player, yet for some reason, he flashes skill often in practice.

In October, once the room was opened to reporters, Carter strutted in all proud after a couple of pretty goals in practice. He turned to Fox Sports North play-by-play guy Anthony LaPanta and said, "Did you see my snipes, Anthony?" LaPanta countered, "Yeah, that's how I knew it was practice."

It takes a lot to offend Carter, and he loved the jab. In fact, Carter wanted to tee LaPanta up for the joke on an upcoming broadcast. He didn't need to. Carter scored in two of his next four games, pretty goals at that.

"My game doesn't change much," Carter said. "In fact, maybe our game plays into my kind of game better. If we're in an offensive shootout, I'm not going to play that well and I won't be that noticed. When my game changes, it's usually not for the better."

It took awhile for Carter to realize he wouldn't rack up points in the NHL.

"You get to a point where you realize maybe you're going to be out of this league if you don't accept a different role," Carter said.

Coach Mike Yeo trusts Carter to be responsible defensively, provide energy, kill penalties and play a gritty role that requires him to needle opponents, get under their skin and every now and then drop the gloves.

"For a long time, I thought what coaches wanted was, 'Simple, simple, make the simple play, simple,'" Carter said. "I was told by a coach once, 'If you want to be in the lineup, you're gonna have to fight every second or third night.' I did the math and that's like 30 fights a year.

"I was like, 'No, I want to fail at everything else first.' And I didn't play for a while. But every team needs role players. I learned to compete and work from my dad."

Carter can't believe he plays for the Wild.

"I grew up watching these guys, and now to be able to play here, it's fun and rewarding," Carter said.

Around the house

Away from the rink, Carter is a typical suburban Minnesota dad. His wife, Erin, is pregnant with the couple's third child. They have two daughters, 3-year-old Maggie and 15-month-old Natalie.

"When I leave here, I'm going to dance class," Carter said, recently.

Monday, Carter was struck by a puck in practice. He spent five hours in a dentist chair. He got a root canal, had a tooth pulled and will need another one pulled soon.

"I don't even know if [Erin] notices anymore," Carter said, laughing. "I walked in, and she goes, 'Are you OK? The girls are hungry.'"

Most Wild players live in downtown Minneapolis, downtown St. Paul or Edina. Carter, Nate Prosser and Thomas Vanek are the only three "Eastsiders," and they hang out and carpool to team events.

"You go to Carts' house, and it's all dollhouses, Barbies and girlie stuff," said Prosser, whose daughter, Emeri, is best friends with Maggie and in her gymnastics class.

Carter is one of the Wild's Movember captains, meaning he's growing a mustache to raise awareness for men's health. With the 'Mo,' Carter looks like his dad "because he's a cop, so of course he's had a mustache his whole life."

Mike Carter hopes his son won't shave it off Dec. 1. It'd be another source of pride.

"Ryan's proud to be from Minnesota and proud to be part of this team," Carter said. "Every now and then, I have to remind myself just how exceptional that is because there's not many fathers that can go to work and when asked, 'What does your son do?' say, 'Oh, he plays for the Minnesota Wild.'

"In a state where everybody would like to play for the Wild, he got there."