Wild players haven’t skated together in more than a month.
Some have even left the country, traveling to their offseason retreats.
And as the coronavirus pandemic continues, it remains unclear when, how and where the NHL could resume play.
But if there’s a way to get everyone back on the ice to finish the season, defenseman Ryan Suter is hoping for that outcome.
“This year has been such an emotional roller coaster,” Suter said Friday during a video conference call from his Minnesota home. “We started out terrible … [but] we battled back. We’ve gone through ups and downs. To finally be in position to have an opportunity to make the playoffs says a lot about our group.
“Would it be disappointing to end it like this? Yes, just because I know that we do have a good group of guys, guys that want to win and want to have a chance to win. So yeah, it would be disappointing.”
Suter never imagined this reality before the coronavirus changed the world.
Even though the NBA had suspended its season the night before after a player tested positive for COVID-19, Suter was preparing for a morning skate March 12 before being told to go home upon entering the Wild’s locker room.
Later that day, the NHL also hit the pause button.
“It’s amazing how fast it has gone and how dangerous and serious it’s gotten,” Suter said. “Hopefully we’re getting toward the end of it soon and people can get back to their normal lives.”
Although players deal with downtime in the summers, this lull is different. Instead of having a target in place, like the upcoming season, the current outlook is fuzzy.
“None of us really know what the future holds,” Suter said. “So, you’re getting up every day and you’re working out but how hard are you working out? What stuff do you need to be doing? So, it’s a different animal right now, and we’re just trying to stay as in shape as we can.”
In Suter’s case, that’s meant push-ups and squats. He’s also gone back to his native Wisconsin occasionally and grabbed weights from his home there to bring to Minnesota
If the season did return, Suter believes he’d need only a week to get back into form. But there are other logistics to consider, like getting players to the Twin Cities from wherever they’re currently staying and ensuring everyone is healthy and able to suit up without getting hurt.
“There’s going to be a lot that goes into it,” Suter said. “For us, we want to play, for sure, and hopefully we can make it work.”
While he waits for a resolution, Suter has been keeping busy.
As part of the ownership group of the USHL’s Madison Capitols, Suter is in the midst of a coaching search and he’s even thought about the possibility of having the Wild skate at the Capitols’ rink if it’d be allowed; the ice is still installed.
Aside from playing baseball with his son, Suter also is helping his wife, Becky, oversee their children’s schooling. The Suters have four kids: 9-year-old Brooks, 7-year-old Avery, 5-year-old Parker and Beau, who turns 3 next week.
“When you get to see the homework, you really appreciate the teachers,” Suter said. “I don’t know how they have the patience to deal with that. You learn to appreciate the simple things and the little things, and spending time with the family is definitely one of them.”
So far, the lesson plans have included the Oregon Trail, spelling and writing.
“The hardest part is getting them to sit down and focus and do it,” Suter said. “It’s constantly either Becky’s yelling or I’m yelling. I hope they listen to their teachers more than they listen to us.”
Still, the 35-year-old misses hockey.
“Guys only get to do this for so long,” said Suter, who has five seasons left on his 13-year, $98 million contract after this one. “I’ve been fortunate. I’ve been able to do it for longer than the average. At any age, I think you want to play and you don’t want to lose these opportunities.”
When the season stalled, the Wild was one point out of a playoff position and cruising during an 8-3 run — this after the team was stuck around the bottom of the Western Conference standings early in the season on the heels of the worst start in franchise history.
Over his last 23 games played, Suter had 18 points and was tied for second in assists (33) and tied for third in points (39) among NHL defensemen since Nov. 19.
“Our top guys were scoring goals,” said Suter, who is second on the Wild in points with 48 after recording eight goals and 40 assists through 69 games. “Everything was clicking. We had a good vibe going. … Things were going good. We were clicking as a team, and guys were kind of re-energized. We made it kind of through the dog days of the season, and we were getting ready for our push to make the playoffs.”
Not only does Suter want a chance to continue, but another motivation of his for getting back to work is to give the fans a distraction they can rally around and enjoy.
“Sports, they bring people together,” Suter said. “I’m sure people are craving something to watch on TV and something to cheer for. So hopefully if this works out, we can get back to playing and [bring] some normalcy there so people can sit at home and try to escape the real world, real-life issues.”