Gary Suter

When you think of the crème de la crème among American blueliners, most of them belonged to the same generation, played during the same period, and have either retired in the last few years or are approaching retirement: Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios, Phil Housley, Mathieu Schneider, Derian and Kevin Hatcher.

And, of course, who can forget #20 Gary Suter. Looking back, Suter's résumé was loaded with accomplishments, whether it be during his seventeen years in the NHL or in international competition representing the US. Suter's name is universally acknowledged as a necessity on any list of great American-born defensemen.

Having been passed up in both the '82 and '83 entry drafts, Suter (a product of the University of Wisconsin) spent the following summer lugging cases of beer at a brewery in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin, wondering if he would ever get a chance to play in the big leagues. Finally, he was selected by Calgary in the 9th round of the '84 draft. Although neither Suter nor the Flames were terribly ecstatic at the time, this turned out to be one of the best late-round investments ever.

In his inaugural season (1985-86), Suter exploded offensively with 68 points (highlighted by a 6-point night against Edmonton), earning him the Calder Trophy. Two years later, he topped that mark by setting a career high 91 points (scoring in 16 consecutive contests), and he finished third in Norris Trophy voting after Ray Bourque and Scott Stevens. During eight and a half seasons in Calgary, Suter tallied 60 or more points six times, finished fourth among league defensemen in scoring six years in a row, and was offered a spot in the All-Star Game four times. Injuries precluded him from skating in both the 1986 and 1989 Stanley Cup Finals; nevertheless, he understood what it meant to be a big-time player and consistently carried his scoring touch into the playoffs.

During his years in Calgary, Suter roomed with and manned the point alongside Hall of Famer Al MacInnis. Together, they provided one of the best defensive pairings (if not the best) in the NHL. Said former Flames Assistant GM Al MacNeil, "[both Gary and Al] were magic on the powerplay." While Big Al's booming slapshots tended to overshadow Suter's floating wrist shots, Suter was still respected as one of the best defensemen in the league. When he left Calgary in 1994, he ranked second all-time in team scoring behind MacInnis (making Calgary the only club ever to, at any particular time, have two defensemen as its top two all-time scorers).

Suter split the second half of his career between Chicago and San Jose. While his numbers diminished, and while he slowed down due to injuries, he remained a Top Ten defenseman, and continued to have a significant impact on his teams' success. While with Chicago, he credited Chris Chelios for helping him play a stronger game in the defensive zone. "I've learned a lot defensively just from watching [Chelios] in practice and getting pointers from him," he said at the time. "Just how to play odd-man rushes better: two-on-ones, three-on-ones." He and Chelios were also fitness freaks and would workout intensely in the Blackhawks' sauna several mornings during the week.

By the time he hung up his skates in 2002, Suter had amassed over 1,100 games and over 800 points.

Outside the NHL, Suter donned the red, white and blue in a multitude of events: two Olympics (winning a silver medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games), one World Cup of Hockey (capturing the first ever title in '96), two Canada Cups, two World Championships (named co-MVP in 1985), and one World Juniors. Such an extensive list of appearances is nothing short of amazing, and it is truly indicative of Suter's indispensability to Team USA over the course of his career.

Sadly, his play on the international stage was overshadowed by on-ice injuries he inflicted on Andrei Lomakin during the '87 Canada Cup, Wayne Gretzky during the '91 Canada Cup, and Paul Kariya right before the '98 Olympics. In spite of these incidents, Suter remained in high regard by his teammates and opponents, never looked at as a mean or dirty player. However folks in Canada will remember him for his vicious stick play.

Suter's brother Bob was a member of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice" team that struck gold in Lake Placid, and Bob's son Ryan is currently skating for the Nashville Predators. There was some speculation that Gary would come out of retirement to join his nephew in Nashville, but that never materialized.

Written by guest writer Vikash Khanna


Anonymous,  10:33 AM  

one of the best

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