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Whenever Ryan Suter gets into trouble, he just skates out of it. This is what he has done his entire career, and it’s a fascinating attribute to watch: If an attacking player comes at Suter in his own zone, he slips out, starts to churn his legs and glides away. In some ways, he's the American version of Scott Niedermayer, a two-way slick-skating blueliner who is as strong defensively as he is offensively.
It's an ability that helps him on the ice, as it has since he was a young child learning to play hockey in Madison, Wisc. But as he's discovered this season, he can also skate away from distress and pain off the ice.
While the summer of 2012 was one of Suter’s biggest moments of his career, when he ended up with a 13-year $98 million contract from the Minnesota Wild, the 2014-15 hockey season has been one of the toughest.
His father Bob, a 1980 “Miracle on Ice” Olympian died before the year began, on Sept. 9 from a heart attack.
Then Ryan Suter contracted the mumps, an illness that was officially announced on Dec. 4.
“After going through earlier in the year with my dad, I feel like nothing can hurt me anymore,” Ryan said. “That is the biggest blow I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. I got along with my dad pretty darn good. We had a pretty good relationship, so that was probably … nothing can faze me after dealing with that.”
And through it all, Ryan has simply continued to skate – for almost half a game. He has averaged 29:34 of ice-time through 28 contests. If he endures this pace, it would be the highest of his career. It’s a way to calm down, and just forget about life.
“The more that I’m on the ice, the more comfortable I feel, the more I don’t have to think, the more you just go out and play,” he said. “I think it’s easier to play more minutes. The part that kind of bothers me about it, is having to … I don’t want that to be ‘Ryan Suter played all these minutes.’ I want it to be that he’s a good player.”
When Ryan saw his wife Becky at an informal skate last September at Braemar Arena in Edina, Minnesota, he knew something was off. Immediately Ryan thought there was something wrong with one of his two children. Instead it was more complicated.
“She had said (my dad) had a heart attack,” Ryan said. “So I’m thinking, ‘He’ll be in the hospital, we’ll go to Madison and everything is going to be fine.’”
But it wasn’t OK. After a phone call with his brother, Ryan knew that life was about to be altered dramatically.
"It’s the worst thing ever, it’s the worst day of my life," Ryan said.
Just 10 days later, he showed up for the first day of training camp, fought back tears and talked about the experience and his father’s wake, which was attended by a reported 4,000 people.
"Leaving is tough," he said. "It was tough to leave. Everyone's probably going to think I'm just so soft. It was tough leaving to come up here because it was close and I knew he loved coming up here to watch games. It sucks. I feel bad for everybody that's gone through it."
And then the season started, and he went back to what he does best – running the Wild’s attack from the blueline and controlling the pace of the game.
He then woke up Sunday Nov. 30 after a Nov. 29 loss to the Blues, and felt off.
After some tests, it was confirmed that he had the mumps.
Becky Suter was pregnant with the couple’s third child – according to the Mayo Clinic, a possible mumps complication is miscarriage early in pregnancy – so Ryan locked himself in a room in their house away from the rest of their family, including his two vaccinated children.
If he needed to eat, he put on a surgical mask and Becky would serve him food.
After Ryan finished the contagious period of the virus he scrubbed down the entire room with anti-bacterial wipes.
“I wiped down every single part of that room that could have gotten anything on it, Ryan said. “Wiping the fan down, washed all the sheets, so I sterilized the room right away so she didn’t have to deal with it.”
His first game back against the Islanders on Dec. 9, he played 29:08 and notched three assists. Against the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 13, he played 33:07.
Ice-time may not be a sexy Norris Trophy stat, and Suter may have his own issues as being known as the guy who plays forever, but there’s something about putting him on the ice that makes a coach look better.
The Wild’s Mike Yeo probably knows that with Suter playing for half a game, that’s 30 minutes where he doesn’t have to worry about his team’s defense. And Suter doesn’t have to worry about anything. It's a win-win for both sides.
“There’s a time to be physical and a time to put a hit on someone,” Suter said. “For me a lot of the time (I spend) is protecting the middle of the ice and playing and using your brain more than your body so you can think the game more and not exert so much energy skating around and chasing guys around. You can think where they’re going to be and anticipate a little bit more.”
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