Hockey’s Ryan Suter Is Back
For Suter, the Madison Capitols are a chance to get involved in the business side of hockey, give back to his hometown and keep a family tradition going strong
Ruan Suter is a co-owner of the new iteration of the Madison Capitols, a junior hockey team.
PHOTO BY NOAH WILLMAN
The Suter name means hockey in Madison.
So it’s no surprise that Madison native and National Hockey League superstar Ryan Suter is involved with the Madison Capitols, a new team that competes in the United States Hockey League starting this season. The Capitols drop the puck this month and will play their home games at the Alliant Energy Center.
The First Family of Hockey
While Suter is a member of a nine-man ownership contingent of the franchise, the twenty-nine-year-old was motivated to get involved with the Capitols to lend support to a sport that’s given him and his family so much enjoyment over the years.
“It kind of honors my dad, my whole family—bringing the USHL back here and putting the Madison Capitols on the jersey, that’s a huge honor for my family,” says Suter, who played one season at the University of Wisconsin in 2003–04. Now a defenseman with the Minnesota Wild, Suter has played in the NHL for nine seasons and signed a $98 million, thirteen-year contract with the Wild in 2012.
The Suter family has helped establish success and tradition with hockey in Madison. Suter’s father Bob spearheaded the first Capitols USHL franchise that played eleven seasons in the city from 1984 to 1995. Bob sold the team in 1993 and USHL officials folded the team—renamed the Wisconsin Capitols—in 1995. For the Suters, reviving both the team and the name feels like they’ve come full circle. “The other owners actually asked what I thought of using the Capitols name,” Suter says. “I talked to my dad and we thought it would be a really special thing.”
Back in 1977, Suter’s grandfather Marlowe started the Madison Capitols youth hockey program, a nationally recognized organization still running strong, which is now overseen by Bob and Ryan’s younger brother, Garrett. Bob is also one of the owners of Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton.
Bob played for the Badgers and was a member of the Miracle on Ice team that won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics for the United States in 1980 in Lake Placid, New York. Bob’s younger brother Gary played on two Olympic teams and in the NHL for eighteen seasons.
Finding a Niche
The Capitols are made up of players age twenty and younger and will compete in the USHL, a junior hockey league headquartered in Chicago that has served as a feeder system of sorts for NCAA Division I teams. The USHL fields eighteen teams in two divisions, including a team in Green Bay, the Green Bay Gamblers, who have won four league championships. Madison joins the Bloomington (Illinois) Thunder in the expansion ranks of the league, which is based in the Midwest and also includes teams from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, Nebraska, Michigan and Ohio.
A majority of the players live with host families during the season, which runs from September to April. While the fall and winter sporting scene already is packed with University of Wisconsin football, basketball and hockey, Suter is confident there’s room for more, especially with a proven recipe for success. The team is looking to attract a fan base much like the Madison Mallards amateur baseball team.
“You go to Mallards games—and I’m not a huge baseball fan—but I go and have a great time. I expect the Capitols to be the same way,” Suter says. “Hockey is a totally different sport than baseball. It’s a lot more intense. I think people will go out and support it. There’s a big following here for hockey and I think it will be a great success.”
Capitols president Ed Chamberlain believes an important component in piquing fan interest is including Wisconsin and Madison-area athletes on the roster.
“If we could get a Wisconsin kid to hopefully play for us and then play for the University of Wisconsin? That would be a big boon for us,” he says.
Meanwhile, it’s been a busy year for Suter, who served as alternate captain for the U.S. national team that participated at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, in February. Suter also was a captain in 2010 when the Americans won the silver medal in Vancouver.
When the Wild lost in the second round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs in May, Suter headed back to the Madison area with wife Becky and their two young children—the family spends every summer here—and took a more hands-on role with the new venture.
Though Suter typically deals with owners and coaches, Chamberlain says he’s been impressed with the two-time NHL All-Star’s involvement across the organization.
“He’s been fantastic,” Chamberlain says. “When I sit down with or see Ryan, he’s got a cavalcade of questions. It’s great to see him learning the business side of things.”
And then there’s the potential of the Capitols recruiting a fourth-generation player: Suter’s four-year-old son, Brooks, is showing a keen interest in the game. “He walks around the house with his gloves on and a hockey stick,” Suter says. (At age one, daughter Avery has yet to catch the hockey bug.)
“Brooks is just learning and he took skating lessons this year. He loves it. I want to make sure that if he wants to do it, he can. If not, I have no problem with that either. I wouldn’t mind a golfer or tennis player or something.”
Tamira Madsen is a Madison-based sports reporter who covered the UW men’s hockey team last season for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.