His eyes welled, his voice shook.
We don’t normally see Ryan Suter emotional, but the Wild’s rock of a defenseman fought back tears Friday as he talked about the loss of his father and best friend, Bob Suter, 10 days earlier.
“My dad, we were pretty close, so …” Suter said, needing a few moments to gather himself. “Just a really good guy, a hard-working guy. I’m going to miss him.”
Suter always goes about his business effortlessly on the ice. It doesn’t matter if he logs 30 or 35 minutes, his pulse never seems to rise above 30, his breathing never seems to get heavy.
It was the same thing Friday. It was obvious how much he’s hurting, yet Suter somehow located the ability to battle through and stand in front of reporters following the first day of training camp.
He had just got done skating for the first time since Becky Suter ran into Braemar Arena on Sept. 9. Becky rushed to the bench to tell her husband that his dad had suffered a heart attack in the lobby of Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton, Wis., the rink father and son co-owned and shared so many memories in.
“I was like, ‘OK, get off, get back there and he’ll be in the hospital,’ ” Suter said. “Then I called my brother [Garrett] and things weren’t good. He was there having a meeting. He said everything was good. He was joking around with [Garrett] and then he kind of clenched up. Garrett was trying to get him back.”
Bob Suter, the Wild scout and beloved member of the 1980 “Miracle on Ice,” died at the age of 57 in the rink that was his second home. Besides running the youth associations, Bob Suter drove the Zamboni, swept the locker rooms, cleaned the toilets and worked the concession stand.
“He wore his blue jeans and work boots to work every day,” Ryan Suter said. “He didn’t expect anything from anyone. Everything he got he worked for. He wasn’t ashamed to be in his work boots and to be at the rink from sunup to sundown on the weekends. He loved helping kids. He was just a really good person and good role model.”
Suter said the support he and his family have received has been “amazing, starting with [Wild owner] Craig [Leipold] flying the whole team [to last Saturday’s funeral]. It’s a pretty special thing. I can’t say enough about the group of guys and the organization.”
Suter has also been humbled by the hockey community. Bob Suter’s famous line was, “It’s all about the kids,” and donations have already poured in to the Bob Suter Memorial Fund (Capitol Ice Arena, 2616 Pleasant View Road, Middleton WI, 53562), which will be used “to try to give back to hockey, whether it’s buying equipment or helping kids pay for their ice fees.”
“Everywhere you go people are coming up and telling you stories about how great my dad was,” Suter said. “It’s a pretty special feeling to hear the stories because obviously he’s gone and that’s how we have to live on — through the memories. To have over 4,000 people come to the wake was pretty special.” They were turning people away. That just shows what kind of guy he was, what kind of impact he had on hockey and on people.
“I hear people that are 40-some years old saying that and then the young kids, you see the young kids, how devastated they were. But it’s over with and we have to move on and have a really good year for him.”
Leaving home Wednesday was torturous for Suter, especially because of how much his dad loved watching him play in a Wild sweater. Without even a practice or a skate in 10 days, Suter jumped right into Friday’s scrimmage. When he skated from behind the net five minutes in, evaded a forechecker and pushed a breakout pass to Mikko Koivu with one arm, Zach Parise knew all would be OK for his close friend.
“In here, in our room, we’ll do our best to make sure we’re there for Ryan and for anything that he needs and supporting him,” Parise said.
Suter desperately misses his dad. But perhaps getting back around his Wild family and the sport he loves will help the healing process.
“As we start playing games, getting closer to that, your mindset changes,” Suter said. “That’s kind of the cool thing about hockey. You get to get out on the ice and you don’t really have to think about anything. You can just go out and be in your own little world.”