I walked into Gold Medal Sports as a young Junior hockey prospect. The sound of a skate sharpener emanated from the back of the shop. Two young towheaded boys ran past wielding wooden hockey sticks like light-sabers. From out of nowhere came a stocky man with the same blond hair as the two kids and a mischievous grin. This was the owner of the shop and my new coach, Bobby Suter; he of the 1980 gold medal winning US Olympic hockey team.
The gravity of meeting someone that was part of such a historic moment, didn’t hit me right away- maybe since I had just been to my own Olympic training camp- but it would hit me later.
I arrived in Madison, Wisconsin that summer of 1985 driving past two large lakes on either side of the city. A dock with boats and college kids walking around in shorts and T-shirts made it feel like one big giant summer camp. This was the end of the heavenly slice of thin summer pie that Madison was served yearly as a kind of treat for putting up with such long hard winters.
With the good weather, we began our training outdoors. Coach Suter’s brother Gary joined us for dry-land drills. He had just signed with the Calgary Flames and was using this opportunity to prepare himself for the NHL. He was only a couple years older, but he seemed to be more of a grown man than any of us. His solid physique was a lot like his brother’s.
It was probably bitter-sweet for Bobby to watch Gary’s playing career take off, just as his ended. But Bobby wasn’t alone: many of his Team USA mates didn’t make it to the NHL.
With the change of seasons came our first game. Madison’s lakes weren’t yet as frozen as the sheet of ice in our home rink, but they would be. We lined up for the national anthem. I looked at the flag, then over at Coach Suter who’d stood on a podium some 5 years earlier listening to this song with 19 other amateur hockey players who had done the impossible by beating the professional Red Army team from Russia and taking gold from the Fins. As the song soared I thought I saw a tear in my tough coach’s eye.
Years later, when I started at Easton hockey, I was at an LA Kings practice the day before a home game against the Nashville Predators. The Pred’s bus pulled up and off walked a kid that looked just like Coach Suter. My boss introduced him as Ryan Suter.
“I met you as a little kid in your dad’s hockey shop,” I told him. “I almost had to call you out for a high-sticking.” He then gave me the same mischievous grin as his dad’s—the same one they both would flash on the ice just before taking someone hard to the boards.
Like father like son.