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Red-hot Suter helping drive Wild to new heights

04/01/2013, 1:15pm MDT
By John Trachina

DALLAS — Ryan Suter prefers to let his play do most of the talking, and what it’s been saying is that he is having a monumental impact on the fortunes of the Minnesota Wild this season.
 
In his first year in Minnesota after seven in Nashville, the Madison, Wis. native has raised his game to a new level over the past 20 or so games, and in the process, he has helped spur his club on to impressive heights.
 
With three goals and 19 points over 17 outings through April 1, which roughly coincided with a Wild hot streak of 15-5-0 over 20 contests, including a seven-game winning streak, Suter has thrust his name into consideration for the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman.
 
But while everyone notices the offensive production, Suter has quietly been playing strong defense all along.
 
“I remember the first 10 games having to answer a lot of questions about [Suter not reaching expected heights], and at the time I was thinking, ‘Man, this guy is playing well,’” Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said. “But since then, I’ve seen a whole new level. He was still playing well at that time, but since that point, he’s been nothing short of great.”
 
Suter and center Zach Parise, a Minneapolis native, signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts to join the Wild last summer. Expectations were high in the “State of Hockey” right out of the gate.
 
“I think he’s played well all season,” Parise said. “I think now everyone’s seeing the offensive production and unfortunately, that’s what everyone looks at sometimes, but he’s been playing well all season for us. With the amount that he plays and all the situations that he plays in, we’re pretty lucky to have him. He’s really been playing well lately.”
 
For his part, Suter admitted that it took him some time to feel completely comfortable in his new surroundings, taking some time to make the adjustment from the more defensive-minded Predators.
 
“Early on, it was a little different trying to get used to new systems; everything was new, and it’s gotten a lot easier,” said the 6-foot-1, 198-pound Suter, who at 28 is just entering his prime years. “Our team is playing a lot better, and we have a good thing going right now.”
 
Wild assistant coach Darryl Sydor can relate to Suter’s situation. During his 17-year career as an NHL defenseman, Sydor changed teams seven times, including three different stints in Dallas.
 
“I’ve been in the situation where you go to a new team and you have to learn new things. It takes some time, and it did,” Sydor said. “But now you see that he’s relishing it, and he’s a guy with an open mind, he makes his teammates better. He’s just a simple guy that goes out, does his business, and right now, he’s doing a great job of that.”
 
Further illustrating Suter’s impact on the Wild: besides co-leading NHL defensemen with 28 points and 25 assists, he also topped the entire league in ice time, averaging 27:18 per game, not to mention pacing the Wild with 48 blocked shots.
 
So just how important has his addition been to the Wild?
 
“There’s a number of things,” Yeo said. “He’s helped just the overall confidence of our team, just by the way he goes out and plays. He’s just such a great leader for us, the way he prepares, the way he comes out and plays every night, the consistency he has. Every night with him, it’s something different that jumps out at you.
 
“One night it’s going to be his defensive play, the next night it’s going to be his execution and his puck work. He’s a guy that’s just so valuable in so many different ways.”
 
Suter has also been a highly appreciated presence on Team USA’s blue line in multiple international competitions over the course of his career, beginning with his time in the U.S. National Team Development Program from 2001-03.
 
“It helps you grow up, definitely, living away from your family and kind of on your own,” said Suter, who was Nashville’s first-round draft choice, seventh overall, in 2003 before spending a year at the University of Wisconsin. “It definitely helps you grow up. It’s just like playing juniors, and it was a great experience.”
 
Suter also represented the United States at three different World Junior Championships (2003-05), helping Team USA win gold for the first time in 2004, while also skating at the World Championships in 2005, ’06, ’07, and ’09.
 
Of course, the biggest stage he’s played on with the national team was as part of the 2010 Olympic team that won silver in Vancouver, when he recorded four assists in six games.
 
“It’s a huge honor, it’s always a lot of fun to wear the USA on your sweater and to play with guys that you don’t get to play with that often,” said Suter, whose father Bob was a member of the legendary 1980 U.S. Olympic squad that won gold at Lake Placid. “It’s a lot of fun playing with other Americans.”
 
If the NHL players participate in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, there’s little doubt Suter will be heavily relied upon to help anchor the U.S. defense. He’s looking forward to the challenge and feeling good about the Americans’ chances.
 
“USA Hockey is definitely doing a good job developing players, and every tournament that USA Hockey has participated in, I think the chances of winning are good,” Suter said. “I expect no differently there.”
 
The same could be said of the Wild’s prospects, now that Suter is patrolling their blue line.
 
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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INTEGRITY AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN OFFICIATING

08/25/2015, 3:30pm MDT
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No one has ever said that officiating, and especially officiating ice hockey, was easy. Rule knowledge, communication skills, fitness, skating and a natural presence are just some of the skills necessary to be a successful official.  Some possess more of these skills and those are the officials who advance to higher levels. But regardless of the level achieved or the skill set the official possesses, the one quality that should be equal among every official is a high level of integrity.

The national official staff members, along with our volunteer referees-in-chief and local supervisors, have heard growing concerns over a decreasing level of integrity among our youth hockey officials. It’s sometimes said that no one is holding them accountable. A portion of this perception is likely a typical “blame the officials” mentality, but some anecdotal evidence suggests there is also some merit to this concern. That’s alarming to USA Hockey, as it affects the credibility of our entire program, along with every member it represents. The blunt truth is this: even one official who isn’t on the up and up can and will damage the credibility of all officials who do take pride in the integrity of their work.

Whether we like it or not, officials are under a microscope, and by the nature of the business, are held to a very high standard. When we signed up for this officiating gig, we committed ourselves to represent the game of hockey, USA Hockey, our local group of officials and ourselves as people of integrity who accept the responsibility and guardianship of enforcing the rules in a fair and consistent manner. Most importantly, we must remember that the game is bigger than all of us and that the game itself is what we serve. Those who lose sight of that not only compromise the competitive fairness of the games, they also make life more difficult for all of the officials by damaging the credibility of the officiating community.

An example of this type of unacceptable behavior occurred last season. A Level 2 adult official tended to work his games with a chip on his shoulder. He often created confrontation with coaches, alienated his younger partners with inaccurate advice and disregarded their help in attempting to get some calls and rule applications right. Even though the help they were providing was correct, he chose to maintain his incorrect position that affected the outcome of several games. He also tended to identify certain players and single them out for various infractions and/or on-ice lectures as a means of emphasizing his authority.

Once the trends were identified, concerns were voiced by several parents and coaches to the local assigner and supervisor, who acknowledged they had never seen the official’s work, but would keep throwing him out there working the same teams and levels that had expressed concerns regarding his attitude. This included intentionally assigning him a playoff game involving the coach who was the most vocal in expressing concerns. This official was then instructed to “throw the coach out if he says anything.”

That playoff game went without a hitch – a tight 2-1 game with a couple of close off-side plays and maybe an icing or two missed. In the post-game dressing room, the official in question, in the presence of his partners and the officials scheduled to work the next game, said, “It’s always a great day when you can make one or both of the coaches mad. It’s too bad the white team coach didn’t want to play along today.” The partners sat there in silence until finally a 12-year-old Level 1 official who was working the next game said, “I don’t think that’s right. We’re not supposed to bait coaches.”

The official got dressed quickly and left the room without saying another word. Kind of ironic that it was the innocent 12-year-old that seemed to “get it” and instill a sense of accountability among those in the room. Imagine how any 12-year-old player feels on the ice when they see the official(s) displaying an attitude that is simply not to the standard the game deserves. And yes, more often than not, they can see through those who do not have the level of integrity expected.

Fortunately, these types of officials are few and far between. But they do exist and to simply stick our heads in the sand and not address the concern is irresponsible. Each of us, as officials, has an obligation to behave in a professional manner at all times and take our role seriously. We have made a commitment to approach each game with the understanding that the game is about the players and we should be invisible until the players require us to appear as a result of infractions that occur. Respect is a two-way street and simply putting on the sweater with the USA Hockey crest suggests respect is warranted, but only if supported by your actions.

USA Hockey has an obligation to create a non-threatening environment that promotes respect for officials and an opportunity for officials to improve through education and evaluation. USA Hockey does this through playing rules, points of emphasis, zero tolerance policies and comprehensive education programs for officials, coaches, parents and players.

In return, the game expects USA Hockey officiating members to bring a professional image to every contest and an attitude that creates a positive environment and makes the game better. We realize everyone makes mistakes – it’s part of the game. However, laziness or unprofessional behavior is unacceptable and being creative in rule enforcement and not holding players/coaches accountable for infractions will only make the next team of officials’ jobs much more difficult and set them up for failure.

The reality is that the game official must always hold themselves to the highest level of integrity and behavior both on and off the ice. Maybe that’s fair, or maybe not, but it is the expectation we are required to meet.

As we head into the 2015-16 season, ask yourself if you are willing to meet that expectation. If the answer is yes, welcome back and we look forward to a great season.

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