With a heavy heart, Suter says farewell

Defenseman heads to NHL after one season with Badgers

Ryan Suter and his family originally set a May 31 deadline for deciding whether Ryan would attend the University of Wisconsin or take his skates to the NHL.

"The deadline….I wanted to know what I was going to do, whether I should get focused on moving on and just bear down that much more on coming back here or what I was going to do," Suter said.

The deadline, though, came and went with Suter still pondering his course. More than three months later, he has made his decision.

The No. 7 overall pick in the 2003 NHL Draft, Suter signed a contract Wednesday morning with the Nashville Predators that will pay him the maximum for a rookie: $1.24 million per year for the next three years.

"I didn't want to put my teammates in an awkward situation, the situation that they are in right now," Suter said. "I didn't want it to come down to the wire like it did…but I'm glad with my decision and I guess I'm really honored to have been given that offer that they have made."

Suter leaves the Badgers after only one season, becoming the first UW player to depart school early for the NHL since Atlanta Thrashers wing Dany Heatley left after two seasons in Madison. As a freshman, Suter was named third-team All-Western Collegiate Hockey Association after recording 16 assists, three goals and a plus-19 rating.

Ryan Suter shares a
laugh with Troy Ward
(AJ Maclean/Badger Nation)
The value of the contract was the sticking point in the Suters' negotiations with Nashville all along, with Suter and his family asking Nashville to pay the maximum rookie salary, while the Predators offered less. In June the two parties broke off discussions. Nashville called the Suters Friday night and eventually made Ryan the offer he had desired.

"All summer long I was kind of up and down," Suter said. "I would try not to think about this but every time someone would come up to me they would ask me about it and I'd get down or get up and just didn't know really what to feel. It is a relief to finally have it over and I'm really happy that I get to move on with my life and move on with my career."

Suter stood to lose a considerable amount of money if he returned to college this year. The NHL's collective bargaining agreement expires Sept. 15 and the next CBA is expected to include a smaller rookie cap. Nashville initially offered what it projected that cap to be: about $850,000 per year.

Suter, however, still struggled with his decision, particularly because classes at UW-Madison and the Badgers' preseason workouts have already begun.

"If it would have happened early in the summer I don't think it would have been as difficult," he said.

Labor unrest in the NHL creates the likelihood of a lockout that could shorten or eliminate the NHL season in its entirety. If a lockout were to occur, Suter would play out this season with Nashville's American Hockey League affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals.

"They had a good team last year and they are supposed to be all right this year," Suter said. "So, in that regards I'm kind of looking forward to that too. If there is a lockout I know I will be all right."

Suter met with media at a press conference Wednesday afternoon also attended by Badger associate head coach Troy Ward. Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves is out of town on a recruiting trip until Sunday, but Suter said he did have an opportunity to consult Eaves and Ward over the Labor Day weekend.

"We're excited for Ryan," Eaves said in a prepared statement. "It has been a life dream of his to get to the next level. We're disappointed he won't be with us to help get us to the next level, but we wish him the best of luck and health."

"My family and I, we sat down, just talked about everything from school next year here to playing in the NHL," Suter said. "We just weighed the goods and the bads and this is the decision we came up with."

Suter's departure leaves the Badgers with only seven defensemen for the upcoming season, which begins Oct. 15 against Mercyhurst. Four of those will be true freshmen. Wisconsin had nine defensemen on its roster last season, but lost four to graduation. In addition, Tom Sawatske left the team seeking more playing time following his sophomore season and will play for Lincoln of the United States Hockey League this year.

Ward said the coaching staff was just beginning to consider whether to try to bring another defenseman in this season.

Nashville's belated decision to offer Suter the rookie cap played a significant role in his decision to jump to the NHL. Suter, who said there was no single determining factor, was also bolstered by the fact that he simply felt ready.

"Whether it is genes or innate ability or a combination of everything, he possesses a lot of things that it takes to play in the National Hockey League, especially without the puck," said Ward, who coached in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Everything's just kind of built up over the past two years from the draft to the World Junior team last year to the season last year here at the UW," Suter said.

Despite only one season at Wisconsin, Suter made a significant impact on the program. Widely considered one of the best defensive defensemen in college hockey last season, Suter was part of a talent-laden freshman class that propelled the Badgers to a dramatic turnaround in the 2003-04 season. Wisconsin won nine more games than it had the year before and made it to NCAA quarterfinals before losing in overtime to Maine.

Suter was raised a Badger. His father, Bob, and uncles Gary and John each skated for Wisconsin.

"It has been an unbelievable experience. It has been more than I would have ever imagined," Suter said of his year at Wisconsin. "I was just really proud to when it came time to make that decision of which college I would be attending to have it be Wisconsin."

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