Growing up in Wisconsin, there were a few basic rules that Minnesota Wild and U.S. Olympian Ryan Suter had to abide by. Among the most basic: Don't lose Dad's Olympic gold medal.
Of course, Suter couldn't help but forget the medal in his locker when he was asked to bring it to school for show-and-tell. At that age, he didn't yet understand exactly what that gold medal represented. By the time he became the third member of his family to play on the U.S. Olympic team, he finally figured it out.
"When I was younger in school, I thought, 'That's just my Dad.' I didn't think anything of it. I would bring the medal in, and I'd forget it and leave it in my locker," Suter said. "I was kind of naive through the whole thing. Now that I know what it is, I just have a huge respect for it. What they did was so special for USA Hockey and for America."
Of course, Suter's father, Bob, wasn't just any Olympic gold medalist. He was a defenseman on the 1980 U.S. team that won gold at the Lake Placid Olympics after a remarkable win forever known as the “Miracle on Ice” against a powerhouse Soviet Union team in the first game of the medal round.
Ryan Suter's uncle, Gary, a veteran of 17 NHL seasons, added to the family's Olympic hockey legacy with a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.
Once Ryan Suter suited up for the U.S. at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where the Americans lost an overtime heartbreaker to Canada in the gold-medal game, his understanding of what his father's gold medal meant fully transformed. And the Suters became an important part of U.S. Olympic history.
"Playing up in Vancouver in 2010, that's when it kind of sank in," Ryan Suter said. "Not that they had won, but the fact that my dad was an Olympian, my uncle was an Olympian and now I'm an Olympian. That was a pretty special feeling."
Olympic hockey has come a long way since Bob Suter's team shocked the world in Lake Placid. At that time, as had been the case for decades, the Olympics were reserved exclusively for amateurs. After Suter's team of American college students dethroned a Soviet team that had won five of the previous six Olympic tournaments, they didn't return to their pro teams. Once the Miracle celebration died down, Bob Suter went back to life as an amateur athlete.
"I remember coming back and a couple of days later I was carrying two-by-fours and working as a laborer for a construction guy," Bob Suter said. "I remember we went to the White House right after the Olympics ended. We were there for an afternoon and met the president. I think two days later I was back working, which I loved. I did that for the rest of the summer."
Bob Suter played one season with the Nashville South Stars of the Central Hockey League, but his playing career effectively ended after that. From there, he got involved in the local hockey community in Wisconsin, a role that included raising his son and future Olympian. That journey between Bob and Ryan Suter is portrayed in "Keep Your Head Up," a short film featuring the family that is part of Gillette's “Raising an Olympian” series.
Ryan Suter admits the film shed some light personally on his father's own playing and coaching career. As a child, he never bothered prodding his father or uncle with questions about hockey.
"My dad and my uncle, they don't say a lot. Unless you specifically ask them, they're not going to say too much," Ryan Suter said. "They didn't have anyone to talk to before. They went and figured it out on their own. I should do the same."
The Wild defenseman has had plenty of opportunities to figure it out, from winning gold at the World Under-18 Championship and World Junior Championship to coming within one overtime goal of Olympic glory. As a returning member of the U.S. team at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, he's hoping to take another step forward in his international career.
"I'm just excited. Excited to be able to go over there and have a chance to go for a gold medal," Suter said. "Not many people get to do it twice and I feel very fortunate and am really looking forward to it. I can't wait to get over there and start playing."
If he can get that elusive gold medal, he'll add to his family's prodigious Olympic legacy -- one he admits he's still learning about when he occasionally sits down and talks hockey with his father.
"That story about carrying two-by-fours?" Suter said of his father’s post-Olympics job. "That's the first time I've heard about that."
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