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The 1980 Winter Olympics were huge for national hockey. Team USA’s men’s hockey team went in as underdogs and fought for a legendary win over the Soviet Union national team, which had dominated the Olympics and world championships since 1954. The game is referred to as the “Miracle on Ice,” and the story has been cemented into hockey lore. It allowed Team USA to advance to a match against Finland, which they ultimately won, to secure the gold medal. Even if you’re partial to hockey odds are you’ve heard of the “Miracle on Ice” because it captivated the nation and led to two movies, a book, and a 2001 HBO documentary called Do You Believe in Miracles?
Fast-forward to 2014, where the Games have returned to Russia and both hockey teams are hungry for gold. Team USA made it to the finals in 2010, to be defeated in overtime by Canada 3–2, but the framework of that team remains largely intact as 10 stars including Ryan Miller, Jonathan Quick, and Ryan Suter will return. Team Russia also has considerable star power, borrowing Alex Ovechkin and Pavel Datsyuk (arguably the best winger and center in the game) from the NHL. A gold medal for USA men’s hockey would be the first since 1980. Winning in Russia, where the rivalry started, would give the current generation a glimpse at what it was like in hockey’s glory days.
What does it take to get to the NHL level? Let alone be called up for the Olympics? The Suters answer that question in Gillette’s Raising an Olympian series, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at a family with serious hockey roots. It all started with Bob Suter and his brother Gary. Bob was part of the dream team in the ’80s that upset the Russian dynasty. His brother Gary played more than 1,000 games in the NHL from 1985 to 2002 and was a two-time Olympian. Bob’s son Ryan (Gillette’s U.S. athlete ambassador) completes the Olympic triumvirate as a star defenseman for the Minnesota Wild who will make his second appearance in the Winter Olympics.
We had a chance to go beyond the feature and sit down with Bob and Ryan for an inside look at what it took to get to the Olympic level, training, and how Ryan will prepare for his second appearance on the world’s biggest stage.
I’m from Michigan, where hockey is a religion, and it’s the same in neighboring Wisconsin. I wanted to get an idea of how much time and dedication it took on and off the rink to get where you are today?
Ryan: Raising an Olympian kind of sums it up. While I was growing up, my dad was always there for me, and everything that I learned was from him. When I talk to him or ask for advice on things, he still says the same things. Keep your head up, keep working hard, keep moving forward. If something bad happens, most of the time he says to learn from it and be better the next time. My dad was a huge influence.
Bob, what does it take as a father to get Ryan to the level he’s at? I know it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.
Bob: It did, but he always worked hard and was a pretty good athlete. He played football, he played baseball when he was younger, and was kind of a natural athlete. As he got older, hockey just seemed the way he wanted to go, and he had chances to play the others, so he saw what it was and saw that to be good at a certain sport, a single sport, you have to put more time into it. We encouraged him and helped him where we could and made sure he had what he needed as far as equipment or doing things to be the best he could.
Ryan, you—Team USA—are no longer the underdogs going into this year’s Games. Does that change your mind-set at all?
Ryan: Just from the perspective of last time. I hadn’t been to an Olympics before, so I didn’t know what to expect. We were younger. A lot of us hadn’t been there. We didn’t know what kind of team we had. I mean, we had played together in the past but hadn’t been on the Olympic stage, so I think going into this Olympics, we have a better understanding of what to expect. And a lot of us were on the last team, so we have higher expectations of ourselves.
How much ice time do you get with the team before the Games?
Ryan: We were only supposed to have one practice. Now we have two practices and a morning skate. Actually, three practices now, so we’re a lot better off than we thought we were.
So they just choose the team and everyone gels together and that’s it, or do you have any other contact?
Ryan: We’ll be in contact and we’ve been in contact with the coaching staff. They’ll be sending out the systems and things like that that we can get caught up on. We did a lot of stuff this summer when we were in Washington at orientation camp. When you’re playing against guys after [NHL] games, you’ll say hi to them and talk to them, and tell them you’re looking forward to playing with them.
What’s the team dynamic like when a lot of you are rivals in the NHL?
Ryan: That’s the funny part of our jobs. We have to go and compete against them and try to beat them, and then two weeks later you’re on the same team trying to fulfill dreams of winning the gold medal. It’s a little different, but throughout the year you play against friends and different teammates that you’ve had and you go out and play hard and afterward you know that you have the respect of the other person.
Bob, I recently heard that like many other Olympic families, you will not be joining Ryan in Sochi. I know it’s a tough decision. What ultimately led up to it and sealed the deal for you?
Bob: During that time, part of the reason is we’re doing stuff with some of the guys from 1980. Some showings and stuff leading up to the hockey and during the hockey. I have a lot of other stuff going on with the 1980 guys. Then the security. Yeah, the security is part of it, but that wouldn’t keep me from going over personally. I know they’re going to take care of the athletes, and I think it’s more blown up and hyped. You can’t worry about everything. Every Olympics or every event has the same talk about it.
Ryan, do you feel the same or have any fears about the Games?
Ryan: They’re going to take care of us. I’m not too worried about that. I actually feel like we’ll be pretty safe; we’ll be very safe in the Olympic village. It’s just easier for my family to watch it on TV.
Hockey is all about routine. Do you have anything special that you do based on the last Olympics outside your normal hockey routine to prepare for these Games?
Ryan: Well, it’s the same mind-set as NHL games. I have my same routine. It’s funny that I’m partnered up with Gillette now for this because before that was my big routine. I don’t know if it’s superstition, but my big thing is every morning you get up, you shave, then you have breakfast. I don’t know why I started that, but I think maybe I scored a goal or something? So I figured that was the reason.
There are a lot of young hockey players and young hockey fans out there watching who dream about being in your position just as you did as a kid. If you could say one thing to them, what would it be?
Ryan: Well, parents always ask me this, and I just say make sure your kids are having fun. To any kids out there, make sure it’s fun. Because when it’s not fun, then it’s not worth doing. You can’t do it because your parents want you to do it, because your coaches are making you do it; you have to do it because you want to do it. I think that’s the biggest thing: Just have fun with it.
Bob: As far as I’m concerned, it’s the same thing. The kids have to have fun and have to want to do it. Also the parents have got to have fun. If the parents are too into it and get too worked up and take the losses of an eight-year-old harder than the eight-year-old, something’s wrong. Raising an Olympian has a lot of neat stuff about how much fun Ryan and I had and kind of still have today with sports.
For more information on USA hockey and the 2014 Sochi roster, visit usahockey.com.