The Cheli-Suter connection
The 23-year-old Nashville defenseman is the latest generation of what is perhaps American hockey's first family. Ryan's father, Bob, was a member of the 1980 Miracle On Ice Olympic team that won a gold medal. Ryan's father and two uncles, Gary and John, all played hockey at the University of Wisconsin as Ryan did when he was a teen-ager. Gary played for 17 seasons in the NHL and was part of the American team that won the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.
Ryan Suter, who grew up in the college town of Madison, Wisconsin, is a hockey legacy. But he is going to have to wait until Chris Chelios retires before he gets his father's shoulder pads handed down to him.
The 46-year-old Detroit Red Wing defenseman smiled at the thought of the shoulder pads. They're noticeably smaller than the equipment that other NHL players use. They're tattered and beaten.
"If he ever wants them when I'm done, I'll give them to him," said Chelios. "They're not worth anything now though."
Chris Chelios came to Madison in 1981 by way of Chicago, southern California and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, eventually earning a college scholarship to Wisconsin. It was there that Chelios met Gary Suter, younger brother of Bob.
Chelios and Gary Suter became friends and eventual business partners, playing the blue line together for the Chicago Blackhawks for five seasons and the United States national team.
Chelios -- the long-time captain of Team USA -- has been a friend of the Suter family ever since his days back in Madison.
"I'm really close with the family, know his dad and Gary," said Chelios, who is godfather to one of Gary's sons, Jared. "I've known Ryan since he was little. I got to know him better after he got back to Madison to play in college (after playing for the national development team in Ann Arbor)."
Ryan Suter smiles when asked about playing against the man who wears his father's shoulder pads, the man who is his uncle's good friend.
"Known him since I was a little guy," said Suter. "We're family friends through way back. Through my family, I've got to know him pretty well."
But how do you handle a man on the ice who is like an uncle off the ice?
"You just have to go out and play, do what it takes to win," said Suter. "If it means slashing him or whatever, that's what I've got to do. The same for him. I'm sure he'd do that to me. Off the ice is off the ice. On the ice, you just work as hard as you can."
Gary Suter has been retired from the NHL for six years. Two years younger than Chelios, Gary has told his nephew, Ryan, how surprised he is that Chelios is still playing.
"He'll just say stuff like, 'Unbelievable,' stuff like that," said Ryan Suter. "I think it's amazing. Some days I wake up and my body's sore. I'm 23. I don't know how he does it.
"Growing up, I used to watch him and Gary out there. Kind of an idol for me him and Gary. I like the way he plays. He's 46 years old, still playing like he's 20-something. You've got to respect that."
It's one thing to respect your elders. It's another thing to try to get a pair of shoulder pads back from a 46-year-old who plays liked he's a 20-something.