Lakeland Union High School assistant hockey coach Gary Suter draws up a play during a game last season. Suter was recently elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame and will be inducted later this fall.Doug Etten photograph
Lakeland Union High School assistant hockey coach Gary Suter draws up a play during a game last season. Suter was recently elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame and will be inducted later this fall.

Doug Etten photograph
The name Suter is practically synonymous with hockey. Now, the family with so many ties to the game can put another feather in their cap.

In Gary Suter's long career, he was no stranger to the kind of accolades that come with playing the game he loved at the highest possible level.

He received such honors as the Calder Memorial Trophy which is awarded to the NHL's top rookie.

This marked the first time an American born player received the award.

He also made one NHL Second All-Star Team, played in four NHL All-Star games and helped the Calgary Flames win the franchise's only Stanley Cup in 1989.

Although his playing career came to a close in 2002, one more award, perhaps more prestigious than any of the rest, awaited him.

On the same day his son Jake received word that he was being offered a scholarship to play hockey for division one program University of Massachusetts Lowell, Suter's phone rang. 

"U.S. Hockey called," he said. "I was getting ready to head out fishing and it really caught me off guard. It was a great way to start my day." 

The voice on the other end of the telephone informed Suter that he would be a part of this year's U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame class. 

"Any young athlete dreams of ultimately being in the hall of fame. A decent amount of time had passed since I retired, so I was a little surprised by the call. It's definitely an honor."

Suter's path to the Hall of Fame began long before his NHL days though. He started as a young hockey player in Southern Wisconsin that dreamed of playing on the biggest stage the state had to offer.

"I grew up in Madison so there were no pro teams around," Suter said. "I idolized the Badgers. All I wanted to do is play Division I hockey for them." 

He accomplished that goal. Suter played two years for the Dubuque Fighting Saints before getting his shot with the Badgers. There he excelled.

"I had made it with the Badgers and played," he said. "Eventually the National team and NHL came calling." 

It was during his play on the National teams that he got to know another former Badger, Chris Chelios, who will join him as a part of this year's Hall of Fame induction class. 

"I think they try to induct players with ties to each other," Suter said. "He was at Madison a little before me and we played on the National Teams together a lot. He was a great player." 

After his time with Calgary, Suter went on to play with the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks before retiring in 2002. Even after leaving the NHL though, he couldn't stay away from the game he loved. 

"Right after I retired I began coaching youth hockey," Suter said. "I coached the Madison Capitols and have been helping out here in Lakeland for a little while now. For me, it's what I've always done. I've always been on the ice in the winter, playing hockey, or in this case, coaching." 

In his family, this kind of approach to the game isn't unique to Suter, though.

His brother, Bob Suter, was a member of the famed "Miracle on Ice" team in 1980 that defeated the seemingly invincible juggernauts from the Soviet Union. Even Bob's son Ryan has made a name for himself in hockey. Ryan is the alternate captain for the Nashville Predators and also served as the A.C. for the 2010 U.S. Olympic team, helping them earn the silver medal. 

Now that his son, Jake is poised to begin his post-high school career, Suter reflected on why his family has had so much success playing hockey.

In his eyes, the answer is a simple one.

"My dad played semi-pro hockey," he said. "Growing up, we were always playing. For us, it was never about football or basketball. It was always hockey. In the winter, we always had a rink in the back yard. Our kids were the exact same way."

Joining Suter and Chelios in this year's induction class are Mike "Doc" Emrick who is known for his work as a commentator, and Ed Snider who founded and still owns the Philadelphia Flyers.

The induction ceremony will take place this fall in Chicago, but the exact date has not yet been set.