SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Gary Suter may not being playing hockey any more, but his on-ice exploits haven’t been forgotten.
The former San Jose (and Calgary and Chicago) defenseman was recently named to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
|Gary Suter of the San Jose Sharks poses for a portrait in San Jose, California in September, 2001. DIGITAL IMAGE Mandatory Credit: Getty Images/NHLI |
“(They) called me last week and let me know the news and they had a press conference when they released it,” Suter said. “It’s pretty awesome to be recognized in front of the hall. There are a lot of great players from the past who are in there. Not just players, but people who have had an impact on USA hockey.”
For Suter, the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame is a family affair. He’ll be joining his older brother Bob, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle On Ice” squad, in the Hall.
Suter was a very impressionable high schooler when the Miracle on Ice took place and is extremely appreciative for what his brother and his teammates accomplished. Until that time, Americans weren’t much of a factor in the National Hockey League. Most of the players came from Canada and Americans, or any one else, wasn’t considered in their class.
But the 1980 games in Lake Placid, N.Y. changed popular opinion.
“That group really opened the door for a lot of Americans to follow,” Suter said. “Up until that point, there weren’t a lot of Americans in the NHL. Those guys shocked the world, but they opened some doors, too. After that, we started to get a lot more of an opportunity at the pro level.
“Just like any opportunity, you’ve got to go there and it’s how you can play,” Suter added. “But you’ve got to get the opportunity first.”
Suter’s induction news this week may not have been the most important hockey news in the Suter household. Suter’s oldest son is trying to make one of his biggest decisions in his young life: where to play college hockey.
In fact, family life was a big reason why Suter retired early from the game. Sure, he had plenty of energy left to play in the NHL, but he wanted to experience what his kids were doing.
“I’ve coached pee wee, bantam, midget and now I’m helping coach the local high school team,” Suter said. “My kids were growing up and I wanted to watch them.”
Suter’s desires didn’t stop NHL teams from trying to obtain his services.
“There were teams that contacted me the first year I was out, nine or 10 teams,” Suter said. “The second year, there were a couple of teams that were interested. At that point I’m thinking, ‘I’m not coming back now.’ It was time for me to get out. I was 39 at the time and I’d been playing hockey for 30 years. I always knew in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to be the guy at the end of his career sitting at the end of the bench. I didn’t want to put myself in that position.”
Suter does have one regret – and not surprisingly, it’s family-related. If Suter knew how quick his nephew Ryan would crack Nashville’s top-six defensive unit, maybe “Sutes” would’ve prolonged his career.
“I didn’t realize that Ryan would be on such a fast track of going to the NHL,” Suter said. “I was out for two years and he was in the League. I know I could have played another year or two and the only regret I may have had is I could’ve had the opportunity to play with him.”
|Gary Suter #20 and goalie Mike Richter #35 of the USA block a shot by Alexei Yashin #79 of Russia in the men's ice hockey semifinal during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the E Center in Salt Lake City, Utah. USA defeated Russia 3-2, advancing to the gold medal match against Canada. Jamie Squire/Getty Images |
Suter’s San Jose legacy is that he was part of making the Sharks a contender instead of being a playoff team who scratched their way in as the seventh or eighth seed. Players such as Suter, his friend Tony Granato and Bernie Nicholls made other players really consider playing in Northern California.
“I think for a while there people probably had the idea that it was like L.A. was in the 80s and it was a place to go and hang out. No one cares about hockey and you can go to the beach and go surfing,” Suter said. “But it’s a great place to play. It’s a great organization, the fan base is outstanding. People want to go there.”
And Suter feels the franchise’s ultimate reward is still to come.
“They’ve got a great team and they’re really close,” Suter said. “I’ve picked them the last two years. It’s a matter of getting the bounces. Hopefully this is their year coming up.”
These days, Suter and his family spend their lives full-time in Lac du Flambeau, Wis., which considerably more remote than the Bay Area.
“When I first got traded from Calgary to Chicago, we wanted a place to spend our weekends and part of the summer. We ended up liking it a lot and wanted to try it full time,” Suter said of how he found his full-time residence
As for how much California is left in him, Suter still plays volleyball regularly, something he latched onto while in San Jose. He attempted surfing at one point (like there’s places one can do that in Wisconsin), but that didn’t stick as well.
“For about five seconds and down I went,” Suter said, laughing about the experiment. “I went to Santa Cruz with (ex-teammate) Scott Hannan and (former Sharks staffer) Rob Jaynes and those guys are pro surfers. I got tangled up in the kelp and thought I was going down. I had to get out of there. Those waves are too big.”
But not as big as being recognized as one of America’s top all-time hockey players.