Ask veteran defenseman Ryan Suter the same question 100 times and more often than not he’ll answer with the same cliché. But catch him at the right time, and maybe, just maybe, he’ll cut a vein.
As much as the 36-year-old wanted to pretend Thursday’s game between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars was like any other game on the schedule, even he had a hard time keeping a straight face when peppered with a half-dozen variations of the same question.
“I’m telling myself it’s just another game,” Suter said with a smile before Thursday’s morning skate at Xcel Energy Center. “I’m telling everybody that.”
That smile was worth a thousands words as Suter prepared to play his former team. There was clearly some extra motivation, even if he refused to admit it, and who could blame him? He spent nearly a decade with the Wild alongside good friend Zach Parise. They signed matching 13-year, $98 million contracts on July 4, 2012, and helped revitalize a franchise that was going nowhere fast.
They never won the Stanley Cup, though; never came close, frankly. Last offseason, general manager Bill Guerin decided it was time to turn the page and, shockingly, bought out both players’ contracts on July 13 to signal the end of an era in the Twin Cities. Many suspected Parise might be leaving, but nobody expected Suter to be bought out. Especially not him.
“Obviously, it was shock,” Suter said. “I had zero conversation about this. Nobody said anything about it, and then it happens. You have to deal with it.”
Those feelings of shock slowly turned into feelings of excitement as teams started to reach out. He signed with the Stars on the opening day of free agency. Asked point blank why he thinks Guerin bought him out this season, Suter changed his tune from casual to serious.
“That’s not a question for me,” he said. “I just worked here. If your boss doesn’t want you, they get rid of you most of the time. That’s what happened, in my opinion.”
While he misses parts of his old life in the Twin Cities — there’s nothing quite like watching the kids skate on the rink in the backyard — Suter is happy with his new life. It helps that his wife, Becky, and their children made the move with him. Everyone is settling in nicely.
“The kids love it,” Suter said. “They are playing hockey. Some soccer for my daughters. Just meeting a lot of really good people and moving on.”
The weather ain’t bad either. His kids were swimming earlier this week. In the middle of November.
“When we got on the plane it was 85 degrees,” Suter said. “We get here and it’s snowing and windy and cold. I asked Becky last night, I was like, ‘What do you think of the weather?’ ”
That said, Suter made it clear that the Twin Cities will always hold a special place in his heart. Whether it was the impact he had off the ice working with the Ronald McDonald House, among other charitable endeavors, or the impact he had on the ice helping the Wild consistently make the playoffs, he’s hopeful he left the community better than he found it.
“I’m really proud of my time here,” Suter said. “I think we did a lot for this city and for the organization. Does (the way it ended) put an asterisk on it? No, it’s a business. That stuff happens. You don’t always see eye to eye with everyone, and sometimes change happens. We have moved on.”
As for the game itself Suter was expecting “a lot of emotions” before puck drop.
“Obviously, a lot of close friends, which are now enemies,” Suter said. “It will be fun. We will go out there and it should be a good game.”
As his press conference wound to a close, someone finally asked Suter the question everyone had been dancing around. Does he want to stick it to the Wild for letting him go?
“Whenever you play the game, you want to win, right?” Suter said with another smile. “That’s our mindset. Yeah. No extra motivation.”
Sure. Whatever you say, Ryan.