January 07, 2010
Nashville Predators defenseman Ryan Suter(notes) is a hockey legacy: His father, Bob, was a member of the Miracle on Ice team in 1980; his uncle is Gary Suter, the former Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks defenseman who won Olympic silver in 2002 with Team USA.
Now it's his turn to battle for Olympic glory. Suter was a favorite to make the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, and his selection was made official when Predators GM David Poile pulled him aside after practice on Jan. 1 and broke the good news.
"It's obviously a dream come true," he said. "I grew up hearing about my dad in the '80 Olympics, and watching my uncle play in the Olympics. When you put that jersey on, it's a totally different feeling."
We spoke with Suter about becoming an Olympian and how the process affects an NHL locker room; as well as the Predators' stunning success this season in light of their annual underestimation by the media; his chemistry with fellow Olympian Shea Weber(notes); Wisconsin beer; and a passionate defense of his fighting career against heavyweights like Marian Hossa(notes). Enjoy.
Q. Did you watch the Winter Classic Olympic announcements?
SUTER: We had practice that day, so I probably ended up getting home around the third period. I finished the game and watch the [ceremony] afterwards.
Are you relieved that you have a more manageable last name than Jamie Langenbrunner, which was misspelled on the kid's jersey?
[Laughs] Yeah, I saw that the next day. They had it on SportsCenter.
But actually, they said my name wrong, so it's kind of even. They said "Sutter."
Well, in one way, it harms your family lineage. In another, you're now, what, like the 40th Sutter brother, right?
Yeah, and the first one to play for the U.S. But also the 40th one.
Your father won gold, your uncle won silver. So shouldn't your goal be the bronze, just to, you know, complete the set?
Nah. My dad always gives my uncle a hard time about winning silver, joking around.
Our goal has to be to go for the gold.
So immediately the knock on the team is that you're all too inexperienced to challenge for a medal. How do you answer that charge?
If they had gone with the guys that went [in the last Olympics], there would have been a knock on them for being an older group. Now that we've been selected, now there's a knock on us for being inexperienced.
I think it just comes down to, you know, just battling. We do have some international experience. When know what it takes, whether it's world juniors or world championships or under-18s, things like that.
We probably are inexperienced. But we're just as excited as anyone else.
It seems like they selected guys like yourself, Erik and Jack Johnson(notes), who have come up together through the USA Hockey program. Is there a sense that we've got a generation of players that have grown together already?
This summer, when we were in Chicago, I was looking around and [realized] I had played with everybody that was in the room on different USA teams. Every since the program in Ann Arbor started, the guys in that age group started playing together. And now they're headed to the Olympics.
What's the dynamic in the Predators locker room for the Olympics: Guys making the cut, missing the cut? Is everyone on edge? And are there really big-time bragging rights at stake in the Games?
For us in the locker room as the teams were selected, guys were feeling ... not pressure, but we were thinking about it. It was in the back of guys' minds. Now that the selection process is over, it's kind of a weight off of guys' shoulders. Now we can focus on playing hard for our team.
As far as bragging rights in the room -- not right now. We haven't talked about it much, but I'm sure as it gets closer, some of the guys who aren't on the teams will be chirping in.
If you win gold over Canada, can you hold that over Shea's head for the rest of his life?
Well, yeah, I think I could. But I'm not the kind of guy that would.
Like [Sunday night], the U.S. beat Sweden in world juniors. [Patric] Hornqvist comes up to me and says something, and he expects me to say something back, but that's not the guy I am. If someone would do that to me, I'd be all pissed off. So I just kind of keep quiet.
Talk about the dynamic between you and Shea on the blue line after two years of playing together.
It's coming together nice. Off the ice, we're good friends, hang out a lot. On the ice, we have each others' backs and we're starting to really find our groove. If he's jumping up, I'm covering for him, and vice versa.
Weren't your uncle and Al MacInnis partners forever during their careers?
Yeah, in Calgary they were partners. My uncle played with Chelios for a while, too.
I'd like it if [Shea] and I could stay together.
It's been an impressive run for the Predators since the beginning of December. What's clicked for you guys that wasn't clicking back in October?
We're playing with a lot more desperation. Everyone's coming together. We've been on the road the last couple of weeks. You're on the road, you get to know each other, you build that bond. I think that's part of it.
Are you guys aware of the perceptions and predictions for the team before the season? A lot of folks had you missing the playoffs. And a lot of folks have Coach Trotz on the chopping block. Is that motivation at all?
We really don't pay attention, because everyone counts us out.
When you're playing in Nashville, there isn't a lot of media coverage. We like it that way. Fly under the radar. When teams count us out, we like that.
I said to someone the other day that our time for trying to just make the playoffs is over; now it's about getting to the second round and winning the Stanley Cup. We can't be satisfied with just getting into the playoffs.
Can you catch the Blackhawks in the division?
They're a good team. They've got a lot of talent. We're sure going to try hard.
Are they the best team in hockey?
Yeah, they're playing good. I don't know if they're the best team in hockey, but they're playing good for sure.
OK, so the Web site HockeyFights.com has you down for two career NHL fights: One against Marian Hossa and won against Brendan Morrow. The Web site claimed you've lost both.
Who claims this?
The people on HockeyFights.com claim you're 0-2. Do you dispute either of those decisions?
Oh, is that because he's more popular than me? You watch the Hossa fight, and you tell me who's undressed more, and you can decide.
I think the point is that you're moving up in weight class: Hossa, Morrow. Who do you think your next fight will be again? Stamkos?
[Laughs] Settle down ...
Switching gears: What do you miss most about Wisconsin as a native son? The pizza or the beer?
Probably the beer. If I don't say Miller Lite, I'll get in trouble. But I like Coors Light.
Are you writing about Wisconsin?
We write about everything. Been there a few times; went to a county fair, actually. Shocked by the depth of fried foods and milk available in the middle of July.
There's weird stuff at the fair. Deep friend pickles. Deep fried cheese curds. Deep fried marshmallows.
[Ed. Note: At this point, Suter had to boogie to a team meeting, right as we were getting into the grand finale of inane questions about booze, cars and music. Our "what was it like as a country music fan to see Taylor Swift in a Predators jersey?" question will have to wait until Vancouver...]