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Suter: 'I feel like I'm back'

Amid offseason that's been anything but routine, star defenseman finds sense of renewal

by Dan Myers @DanMyers / Wild.com

MIDDLETON, Wisconsin -- Ryan Suter's labor of love reeks of melted steel and hot electric.

It's what happens when your rink is filled with a haze of pungent smoke from the dust and the fusing together of steel beams. The number of workers in yellow construction hats is twice as many as skaters on the ice. 

And if the old man was around, you can bet he'd be over in the corner with the welders, rolling up his sleeves and getting to work. 

Such is the new normal at Bob Suter's Capitol Ice Arena, which this summer is undergoing a $2 million facelift. There is literally no part of the building that will be left untouched by the time the United States Hockey League's Madison Capitols drop the puck on their season this October. 

This offseason has been anything but routine at the barn locals call "Cap Ice," but the same can be said of the Wild defenseman hoping to carry on the vision of this building's name sake.

Looking to return from an injury some feared might be career-ending, Ryan Suter couldn't disagree more.

Think of it more as career-renewing.

"Honestly, that motivates me," Suter said. "I like doubters. When people say, 'You probably won't be ready for camp,' that just makes me angry. I might not be, but I'm sure as heck going to try as hard as I can.

"The way I feel right now, I feel like I'm going to be ready for camp."


A work in progress

Suter can close his eyes and see what Capitol Ice Arena will be come October. Not only is he on site most days, he's had a hand in designing almost every bit of the change that is -- and will continue to -- take place.

"Here is where the ticket office will be, and he's another office that will have a will-call window," Suter says, giving what seems like his millionth guided tour of the facility. 

As Suter overlooks what will be the Capitols' home sheet, he simply grins and shakes his head. The ice was just put back in a week or two ago after being removed earlier this summer. 

What was almost an Olympic sheet of ice has been shrunk down to an NHL-sized rink, enough to make room on each side to put in permanent bleachers. The arena, which had a maximum capacity of about 1,000 spectators last season, will have a little more than 3,000 in future years. 

Only a couple of weeks ago, workers finished reworking the ice-making equipment under the ice and putting up the boards. 

The place, while still a neat freak's worst nightmare, is coming along on schedule.

"Two weeks ago, there was no ice in here. It was all sand. If you would have told me then we'd have ice in here right now, I would have said 'no chance,'" Suter said. "But they come in here and they just hammer it out."

Suter himself got back on the ice for the first time three weeks ago. It was a long, arduous process just to get to that point, with him unable to even sleep in his own bed for the first month. 

Unable to put any weight on his right foot for the first several weeks after surgery to repair the fractured right fibula and talus bone in his ankle, Suter was resigned to use of a scooter just to get around the house.

After ditching that for crutches in early June, Suter hopped around on those for about a month before finally having his cast removed around the Fourth of July. 

Suter walked for a few weeks before getting on skates for the first time at his hockey camp the last week of July. It wasn't pretty at first, but Suter says he's made major strides over that time and is feeling comfortable with where he's at in his recovery.

"I'm maybe a week-and-a-half behind of where I'd be in the summer time," Suter said. "I'd usually start skating at the end of July, so maybe two weeks. But by next week, I'll be putting the equipment on and skating. Right now, I'm just trying to get the bad stuff out of there."

Normally, Suter would spend about an hour in the morning working out, then head to the rink for a skate in the afternoon. During his rehab, however, Suter has been spending three hours per day in the gym and is just now getting back to his on-ice work. 

Suter, his wife, Becky and their now four children -- Becky gave birth to son Beau in April -- will head back to the Twin Cities in three weeks to get ready for the school year and for training camp. 

Video: Ryan Suter: Injury Update

Ryan thinks he'll be in the best shape of his life.

"This morning, I was on the treadmill at 6," Suter said Tuesday. "I'm going to be in better shape than I've ever been in. I've never worked this hard, this much.

"I'd get up and work hard, but the rest of the day, I'd be doing other stuff. Now, they've got me doing all kinds of exercises that are making me better."


Waiting is the hardest part

There was never a time when Suter doubted he would be back, but the first month after the injury was as trying a time as he's faced in his hockey career.

There isn't a person on the planet who liked to be catered to less than Suter, who has always been self-sufficient and on-the-move. This is someone who, two summers ago, took out the rubber flooring at Cap Ice and replaced it all himself instead of hiring a contractor.

 

"I don't sit down," Suter said. "I was up at 5:45 this morning and I won't sit down tonight until after the kids go to bed around 9 or 9:30. I'm constantly going."

In the immediate aftermath of his surgery, however, all Suter could do was sit in a chair as Becky did a vast majority of the work around the house. In the morning, she'd make him breakfast, serve it to him then clear it away. 

After that, it was off to care for the kids. Ryan could hold Beau, but when he'd start to cry, he was unable to walk with him, so he'd have to hand him off to mom. 

Lunch and dinner would follow, each with the same routine. He even slept in that chair for the first few weeks.

"That was the hardest part," Suter said. "It's just the little things you take for granted. She was unbelievable. Not to sound too corny, but It's in times like that that you realize how much someone really cares about you."

A mainstay in the Madison area, Suter says he didn't leave the house much. In order to leave the scooter at home, Suter would have to prop himself up on his crutches.

"I didn't want want to make a big deal about it or draw attention to it," he said. "So I wouldn't do anything. I'd just sit around and do nothing."


'A blessing in disguise'

Back at the rink, Suter meets with a team of contractors to go over plans for the building's new suite area, which used to be the weight room.

All of the machines have been moved about 100 feet to an area overlooking the facilities second sheet of ice, an area that was wasted storage space just a few weeks ago. 

In addition to the suites and additional seating, the Capitols' new rink -- renamed for Suter's father following his death in 2014 -- will have three bar areas serving beverages and food, a new video board as well as gallery seating in one corner and completely revamped locker room space. 

Included in the Capitols' new space is a player lounge, a dry-dress area, a brand new dressing room, a training room and a new coach's office. 

The Capitols moved from Alliant Energy Center -- the old Dane County Colesium -- before last season and endured one season of sub-standard accommodations knowing that would all change this summer. Alliant, located 13 miles away in Madison, seats more than 8,000 for hockey and is the former home rink for the University of Wisconsin.

Players that spent their first season in Madison last year who will return in a few weeks are bound to be impressed.

"They're going to [crap] themselves," Suter says with a big laugh. 

Suter himself says he feels like a new man, especially considering where he was just a few short weeks ago. He sounds like someone with a new lease on his hockey career.

"I'm looking forward to getting back to Minnesota. I feel like this is going to be a blessing in disguise," Suter said. "I feel good right now. I feel like I'm back."


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