There’s nothing quite like a little anger to motivate a hockey player, especially when he has a little time to stew in it. Just ask Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter.
His ability to harness that emotion and channel it in a positive direction is a big reason the Madison, Wis., native is one of the most promising young defensemen in the NHL today.
Only a couple of summers ago, though, Suter was steaming in a pot of self-doubt.
He had just completed a rookie season that, by most accounts, would be considered very successful. Only 20 years old when the 2005-06 season began, Suter played in 71 games for the Predators, contributing 16 points and averaging more than 17 minutes ice time per contest.
It was the end of the season that troubled Suter.
The Predators, seeking experience for a playoff run, traded away a first-round draft pick for veteran defenseman Brendan Witt. As a result, Suter wound up sitting out some games down the stretch, not to mention all five of the Predators’ postseason contests.
For Suter, who’d grown accustomed to playing key roles in big games for U.S. National Junior Teams in previous years, it was a tough turn of events to accept.
“It was something I’ve never been through before, and it was very frustrating,” Suter said. “I don’t even like to think about it. It was a bad time.”
But Suter turned things around in a hurry. Instead of sulking through the summer months, he turned his offseason efforts up a notch, determined to prove that – despite his youth – he was ready to be an everyday player on a good NHL team.
“I was more angry than anything, and I wanted to work really hard to prove to people that I was capable of playing,” Suter said. “I think it was the same kind of stuff that I did every summer, but maybe with a little more oomph to it. I had a little chip on my shoulder.”
A friendly visit to Madison by Predators associate coach Brent Peterson helped put Suter in the right frame of mind as well.
“He just didn’t want me to be down,” Suter said. “He wanted me to know that I’m a big part of the team and the organization and not to get too worked up over things. He said, ‘Just be ready to come and play a big role next year.’ ’’
Suter did just that, and the results were startling in 2006-07.
He upped his goal total from one to eight, his points from 16 to 24 and his ice time to 20:09 a game – the fourth-highest total on the club. Significantly, he played in all 82 regular-season games and all five playoff contests.
“When he first got here, you knew how good he was going to be because he had all the tools – he’s a great skater and has a good shot,” Predators goalie Chris Mason said. “But you don’t always know how to use them right away. It takes a little bit of time to adjust to the size and speed of the NHL.
“He’s an effective player now. He has a great impact on the game and is an important piece to our team.”
Suter said one of the reasons for his big improvement last season was a greater feeling of security.
His rise through the ranks of American hockey had been so quick over the years that he never really put down roots.
Prior to arriving in Nashville, Suter had played one season of high school hockey at Culver Academy in Indiana, played on three different U.S. developmental teams over a two-year period, played one season at the University of Wisconsin and played one season for Milwaukee of the American Hockey League.
“It was probably the first time in three or four years that I’d been on a team longer than a year,” Suter said of his tenure with the Predators. “You just feel more confident and comfortable. You know the system and what’s expected of you.”
Suter certainly has the bloodlines to be successful.
He’s the son of Bob Suter, who helped the 1980 U.S. Team to Olympic gold at Lake Placid, and the nephew of Gary Suter, who spent 17 seasons in the NHL and represented the U.S. in a pair of Olympics.
“He wants to win, and he’s competitive, like we all were,” said dad. “But he doesn’t need to be in the spotlight by any means. That’s pretty much the way we all were.”
But the 22-year-old Suter has tried to steer his own course.
“I definitely respect everything they’ve done, and they’ve helped me become the player I am,” he said. “But I’m just trying to be Ryan Suter.”
He’s doing a good job of it so far this season.
Through 39 games this season, Suter’s 16 points had him on pace to top last year’s offensive totals, and he was among the team leaders in ice time logged. The 6-1, 196-pounder was learning to handle himself along the boards as well.
“He’s well on his way to becoming a solid, 15-year NHL player,” said uncle Gary.
“He’s really good defensively, but I think he has more of an offensive upside that he hasn’t shown yet. He definitely hasn’t peaked yet, offensively. He’s starting to get a little more power-play time now, so, hopefully, he can show what he’s capable of doing.”
Suter’s next goal is to make sure he plays on a consistently high level, something that usually comes with experience.
“Just like any player, what separates good NHLers from not-so-good NHLers is consistency, and that’s an area all of our young defense have to get better at,” Predators coach Barry Trotz said. “His game has gotten stronger and a little more consistent, but there’s still room for improvement.”
Suter is also developing off the ice, where he’s become one of the Predators players most frequently seen in the community.
Already this season, he’s read to local school kids, helped put together a pingpong table at a Ronald McDonald house, delivered turkeys at Thanksgiving and participated in youth hockey clinics.
“I try to do as many of those events as I can, and I like doing them, too,” Suter said.
“I like helping less fortunate people, and I think that’s a big thing about being a professional athlete in any sport. When you get out to the community and help, it makes a big difference.”
Hardly the words of an angry young man.
Nashville Star A Real Straight Shooter
That’s how long Nashville Predators team photographer John Russell has to shoot Ryan Suter on the stage of the Ryman Auditorium, country music’s most hallowed ground otherwise known as the Grand Ol’ Opry.
As Russell readies for the shoot, Suter is nowhere to be found. He’s back at the
Still, Suter shows up at the Ryman, apologizing profusely for the delay, hoping his tardiness isn’t putting a damper on Russell’s afternoon plans.
Suter climbs on the stage that has hosted all the greats of country music, from Hank Williams to Kenny Chesney, sits on a stool and flashes an easy smile and cradles a guitar across his lap. For a self-described country music fanatic, sitting on the stage at the Ryman Auditorium is akin to a New York Peewee skating on Madison Square Garden ice.
As quickly as the shoot begins, it’s done, and Suter is making his way back to the Predators’ practice facility where the coaches want him to test his injured leg during an afternoon skate. His out-of-town guests will have to wait a little longer before he’s done for the day.
“The guy had family in town, gets chewed out after the morning practice, goes to a photo shoot apologizing for something he had no control over, then
“Ryan is really the nicest professional athlete you will ever meet. His parents did a great job raising him."