Bob Suter, a defenseman for the 1980 Miracle on Ice team and father of Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, died Tuesday at age 57.
Suter played for the University of Wisconsin, winning a national championship in 1977, before being chosen for the team that upset the Soviet Union and won a gold medal at Lake Placid, N.Y.
Ryan Suter has said that his dad never talked about 1980 much while he was growing up.
“It was never my dad the gold medalist. It was my dad the hard-working guy who runs a sporting goods store and does what he can for youth hockey,” he told USA TODAY Sports in 2010.
Doc and I drove out to that sporting goods store one day, and if we’d been there to buy sticks or pads or pucks, I think Suter would have known exactly what to do with us. But we were there just to meet him in person, and he seemed weirded out by the whole experience.
His gold medal, he said, was at home in a drawer. He wasn’t exactly sure where. Could he at least help us find a jersey or something?
We were like pre-teens at a Bieber concert. We talked for hours about the two seconds we’d spoken to him. He’d looked right at us! He’d said things! In the same oxygen as us!
You’ve got to understand, that was a catastrophically shitty year. Our paper had shut down, we were broke, we were working 80 hours a week and trying to get through college, our parents were barely talking to us because we were never around, everything at the age of 19 feels like the last days of a war anyway if you’re doing it right, and so what we would do was tell stories to get through the hour between 3 and 4 a.m. when it felt like the whole world was ending.
One of those stories was this:
This was before the Disney movie, before the torch-lighting, before the “greatest sports moment of all time” specials on cable. Everybody remembered it, sure, but this was basically before the real Internet. Nobody had a way to talk about it all day long. The story felt like ours, like a secret. That’s what a good story is: A part of your secret heart, that you can take out and look at when you need to remind yourself who you are, when you need something to keep you alive.
I think I might have stammered something like that the second time I met Bobby Suter, in a deserted ice arena in Buffalo, New York.
This time Doc and I had dragged ourselves all the way out to what seemed like the coldest goddamn place on the planet. We’d read that the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team was gonna play a game, a charity match, against the Buffalo Sabres Alumni squad. Bunch of old guys in a no-checking game that meant less than nothing? On a Sunday afternoon in winter?
Just try and keep us away.
Tickets were sold out, the story said. But Doc pulled some strings and Bobby Suter set aside a couple, just for us. We took a bus to a train across the country, to a cab when we missed our train station, to a town with blue laws where nothing was open. We were so poor we couldn’t spring for a hotel, so we wandered the streets before the game and wound up at a Burger King.
After the game — in which Suter knocked some 70-year-old into the boards because no checking doesn’t really mean no checking — we hung around the arena waiting for the players to come out of the locker rooms. We wanted to thank Suter in person, and suddenly there he was, his hair still wet from the shower, grinning like a little kid at the circus.
Forget the game (which was forgettable), forget the overnight train trip, forget the fact that it was 5 below zero and the snow piles were over our heads. It was worth the distance to see somebody lit up like that, from doing just what he was put on earth to do.
So thank you for that, Mr. Suter, and thank you for the story we told ourselves over and over in the middle of the night.