Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter passes the puck during NHL hockey training camp in St. Paul, Minn., Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)
ST. PAUL, Minn. - Training camp for Ryan Suter will be more than a tuneup for the season. Practicing with the Minnesota Wild will bring some respite, too.
Suter's father, a Wild scout and former U.S. Olympic team member, died Sept. 9 of a heart attack. Bob Suter was 57. His son, the star defenceman who hasn't missed a game and has spent more time on the ice than any other NHL skater since signing with the Wild two years ago, was naturally still having a hard time with the sudden loss.
"We were really close. Just a really good guy, a hard-working guy. I'm going to miss him," said Suter after pausing to for composure when his voice faltered and his eyes welled.
He added later: "He wasn't ashamed to be in his work boots and to be at the rink from sunup to sundown on the weekends. He loved helping kids. He was just a really good person and good role model."
Bob Suter, a Gold medallist on the "Miracle on Ice" team from the 1980 Winter Games, co-ordinated youth hockey programs at an arena in Middleton, Wisconsin, near Madison where both he and his son played in college for the Badgers.
Ryan Suter returned to the ice Friday for the first time since his dad's death. Practice with the Wild was a welcome diversion from the grieving process.
"Good to be back around the guys. Obviously, we went through a pretty tough thing a week ago and to be back around here, it's good to get your mind off of it," he said.
Wild owner Craig Leopold flew the entire team to the funeral. Hockey is a close-knit major sport, so condolences and donations to a memorial fund designated for youth opportunity and support rolled in.
"Everywhere you go, people are coming up and telling you stories about how great my dad was," Suter said. "It's a pretty special feeling to hear the stories, because obviously he's gone and that's how we have to live on through the memories."
Suter told coach Mike Yeo not to ease him into camp.
"I think it's important to get back into it," Yeo said. "I know his conditioning is good. I know he hasn't done much here the last week, and that's understandable, but at the same time, you're not going to lose a lot when you've got a good base."
He has a good base in the locker room, too, when it comes to emotional support.
"It's just a really sad, unfortunate thing to happen," close friend and left wing Zach Parise said. "In here in our room, we'll do our best to make sure that we're there for Ryan and for anything that he needs."