Ryan Suter competes at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship on May 19, 2019 in Kosice, Slovakia.
When the U.S. men’s ice hockey team opened the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship 10 days ago, defenseman Ryan Suter pulled a USA sweater over his head for the 14th time at a major tournament.
It’s been a remarkable run for Suter, who played for the U.S. team in three World Junior Championships, five world championships, two Olympic Winter Games and one World Cup of Hockey, along with two stints at the Under-18 World Championship.
“Any time you get to wear this jersey, it’s special,” said Suter, who has won two IIHF gold medals, though none at the senior level.
Even though playing for Team USA has become common for Suter, this year’s tournament has felt a little more special for the Wisconsin native.
Last April, Suter’s NHL season with the Minnesota Wild was cut short when he suffered a major leg injury against the Dallas Stars. Suter, who collided with the end wall, broke his fibula and talus bones, and doctors questioned whether or not he’d be able to return to top form after such a devastating injury to his ankle.
“You try not to think about it and just go out and play,” Suter, now 34, said. “You just try to not think about it and play hard on every shift.”
Suter underwent a rigorous rehab last summer and was able to appear in all 82 games for the Wild this past season, averaging a team-high 26:42 of ice time. Suter’s recovery has been impressive, considering doctors weren’t sure, at first, if he would be able to continue with his playing career. One doctor told him that if he had been playing another sport, a comeback might not be possible.
When Suter first skated a few months after the injury, his foot hurt. The pain wouldn’t go away. Even he had his doubts.
But he kept up with the rehab and was ready for the start of training camp. And when the Wild fell short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven seasons, Suter took the call to extend his season with Team USA.
“This is a little more special,” he said before the tournament began. “My son and my daughter are both coming over, which will be a great experience for me to have with them. I’ve never been able to do that before. My family was at the World Cup [in Toronto], but this is the first time we’re all going overseas and it’s a first for them. I’m looking forward to their experience.
“Going through what I went through, it is special to be back in this situation. Like I said, any time you get to put on the USA jersey, it’s special.”
Suter will be looked upon as a leader on Jeff Blashill’s team. Suter has been wearing a captaincy letter for the Wild since 2012, when he was 27 years old, and in 2010 he was named an alternate captain on the U.S. Olympic men’s team that won a silver medal.
He’s known as a puck-mover who is heavy in his own end, and very difficult to play against. He’s a tenacious defender who moves the puck up ice well and possesses a heavy shot from the point on the power play. Blashill had said that Suter is one of the defensemen he’ll lean on for big minutes.
“The best way to lead is to lead by example,” said Suter, who has had five assists in six games so far. “I’m one of the veteran guys in our group now. I remember what it was like being one of the younger guys in the group, and now I’m one of the veterans. You always want to be a leader, but the best way to lead, especially in a tournament like this where it’s shorter, is to lead by example.”
Having experience in these international tournaments, Suter said that the biggest key for Team USA was to see how quickly the team could get on the same page with Blashill as far as how the team wants to play systemically.
“Who can get their system the fastest? That’s what usually wins games in these tournaments,” Suter said. “A lot of the guys have played for Coach Blashill in the past, including last year and the year before that in this tournament. That helps. I think we’ll be able to get our game to the way we want to play, and that’s one of the biggest things. Every team tries to find their identity right away, and the teams that have the most success are the ones who find their identity and manage it. I think we have a good idea of what our identity is.”
Blashill wants that identity to be a team that plays fast. He wants the puck moved fast and plays to transition and counter-attack with full-out speed. Suter said there’s also a mental aspect to playing fast.
“Your mental decisions is what has to be the fastest,” Suter said. “Even something as simple as making tape-to-tape passes will make us faster because you’re executing plays. Executing the simple play makes you look fast and it allows you to play fast. As the D, we need to jump into the play when we need to, but it all comes down to executing.”
Team USA has gone 5-1 in preliminary play and faces Canada on Tuesday to close that round before heading into Thursday’s quarterfinals.