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.
Suter HeadshotBut 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.
For the last 15 years, Ian Walsh has crisscrossed the United States as an NHL official. In this Part 2 of our conversation with Walsh, the 42-year-old Philadelphia native fielded a series of questions discussing life on the road, his conditioning schedule, mentors, on-ice struggles, the evolution of the game and advice for aspiring officials.
USA Hockey: How do you think you've been able to maintain all of the officiating success you've had over the last 15 years?
Ian Walsh: I believe one of my strengths as an official is my work ethic. I come to the rink every night ready to work hard and give 100 percent. I also believe I am very coachable, and when I'm offered a suggestion for improvement, I try very hard to implement that advice into my game.
USAH: What is your conditioning schedule like during the NHL season? How about during the off-season?
Walsh: During the season, conditioning work is more about maintaining what you built up over the summer. The workouts aren't as intense but you must continue to take good care of your body. Game-day workouts usually include a 30-minute bike ride or a couple miles run at the hotel gym. I also like to do some core work and light strength training on top of that.
The weather in Portland is amazing in the summer, and I prefer to be outside and on my road bike. I usually get in about four days a week of riding outdoors to help build my endurance and strength. I try to play hockey a few days a week as well to help work on my skating.
USAH: When did you realize you finally had cemented your career as an official? What was that feeling like?
Walsh: I don't know if you ever get that feeling. Every night is a different challenge in our league. It is a hard, hard league to officiate. The scrutiny of every call, every goal, ever non-call is such a challenge for all of us. The best players and coaches in the world expect us to perform at such a high level every night, and we have to be ready for anything that comes our way. It’s a privilege to be on the ice in the NHL, and I think that is something no official takes for granted.
USAH: What has been your biggest accomplishment to date as an official?
Walsh: Being chosen to participate in four Stanley Cup playoffs is what I'm most proud of. It’s an incredible honor to be selected and that’s the goal for every official each year. Also, being part of the team that was chosen to represent the NHL at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was a phenomenal experience and a great opportunity.
USAH: What has been the biggest hurdle/obstacle you've had to overcome in your officiating career?
Walsh: I’ve been lucky so far, knock on wood, that I haven’t had any serious injuries. Other than some bumps and bruises, I’ve been relatively injury-free in my career. The biggest challenge is to be able to bounce back from calls you made that aren't correct. In this day and age, we usually know within minutes after the game if we made a wrong decision. When you make a call that impacts the game, it’s hard on the mind. Unfortunately, we make mistakes and what most people don't understand is that nobody takes it harder than the official making that mistake. Being able to bounce back from a mistake is something all officials must learn to do.
USAH: Who has had the most impact on your officiating career over the past 15 years? What has that person or those people taught you?
Walsh: Nobody has helped me more over my NHL career than fellow referee Paul Devorski. I've worked a lot of games with Paul and we’ve had the opportunity to travel together on the road. As an elite, veteran referee, he has been able to pass down some of his knowledge to me to help me become a better official. Paul is retiring this year, and our staff will sorely miss him.
USAH: How has the game changed, besides speed, since you started in the early 2000s?
Walsh: I would say the biggest change besides the speed of the game would be the use of technology. It is amazing what you see at rink – teams have iPads on the bench, super slo-motion video replays, hi-def video scoreboards, etc. With all that technology, it makes the officials job appear easy. People forget that the official on the ice sees a play one time, in real time, and must make a split-second decision on that play. It often appears quite different when you see a replay in super slo-mo on hi-def after a game.
USAH: What advice can you give aspiring NHL/professional league officials as they progress in their career?
Walsh: I would say make sure you have a backup plan. Making it to the NHL is everyone’s goal, but there are very few jobs available. There are so many factors that go into hiring an official and a lot of those are out of your control. Go and work the highest level available to you. Don't worry about other officials, if you are good enough, the NHL will find you. Also, control what you can control – always work on your skating, know your rules and come to the rink every night with a strong work ethic and a great attitude.
Tag(s): Men's National Team