There was a time, a long time ago, where you could look at the Calgary Flames backend and blanch over the depth and skill that presided over it. With names like MacInnis, Macoun, Nattress, Ramage, Suter, and McCrimmon, the Flames could throw out just about any combination of defensive pairings on the ice in almost any situation and be comfortable with it. This might be an alien notion to fans of the team today who weren’t familiar with what they were up to in thelate 80’s and early 90’s. This might make you cry.
Give it a minute.
And HERE COMES THE WATERWORKS.
So it’s easy to see, given this in-ordinance of defensive wealth, how a guy like Gary Suter might get lost in the shuffle when you consider some of the finest members of the Flaming C to ever play the game. But to ignore him completely, well, Suter had a habit if making you pay for that during his career, and we’d be best not to employ the same ignorance here today.
We love guys like Gary Suter, because he’s one of those guys everyone knew was pretty good, but was never really expected to make it. While Suter was a standout defenseman coming up through the American ranks in the USHL and NCAA hockey, for a while many thought Gary might best be remembered for pioneering the kind of hairstyle your Aunt Gwen rocked for 8 or 9 years in the 90’s (see above)
He sure did thrive as a Wisconsin Badger, regardless of what Al MacInnis will ever tell you (though he’d probably tell you that Gary Suter was a great hockey player, so maybe that’s a bad example). In two seasons at Wisconsin (which, if you do the math, means HEY GARY, LOOKS LIKE YOU’VE GOT TO FINISH YOUR SCHOOLING IN CASE THIS HOCKEY THING DOESN’T WORK OUT FOR YOU) Suitsy (yup) put up 73 points in 74 games while solidifying their blueline probably.
It was enough to get himself a 9th round draft selection, 180th overall, in 1984 by your Calgary Flames. Kind of surprising that a defenseman who was practically a point a game player to be taken so late in the draft, but hey, Henrik Zetterberg and all that, so sometimes it’s about the late bloomers. It was the same year that Mario Lemieux was drafted, amongst other very prominent future NHLers, so maybe 1984 was more about depth than anything. (The Flames drafted Gary Roberts, Brett Hull, Paul Ranheim and Jiri Hrdina in the same year, so it’s not like they squandered 1984 before landing a gem in Suter)
Even more with the hair
Proving the time tested formula of X + Al MacInnis = GOOD, Suter found immediate success with the Flames, as he and his long time defense partner shredded opposing teams’ penalty killing units as the Flames lethal power play (again, yup) tore up the NHL.
In the 1985-86 season, Suter’s first in the NHL, he played in all 80 regular season games, posting 68 points and 141 penalty minutes (including a 6 point effort one night against Edmonton, because Grant Fuhr), previewing the tough but talented persona Suter would use to define himself over the balance of the rest of his career.
Which means to say, I guess he was pretty good.
People agreed. Suitsy was so good that he scored himself both an All-Star nod and the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year in 1986. He also played 10 games in the playoffs as the Flames went on a quest for their frist Stanley Cup winning season, ultimately falling short as Calgary finally succumbed to the Canadiens’ 23rd Cup Championship. Suter was injured for a good chunk of the Cup run, so he was limited to only a handful of games (Alas, kind of a recurring theme).
But he did get to be in the game where Steve Smith scored on his own net, so that’s something. (Please don’t fact check that, I have no idea if it’s true)
Gary Suter Is A Force
It’s crazy just how undercover good Suter was on a stacked Flames team in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Everyone remembers Suter, but everyone talks about MacInnis. Well deserved, of course, but Gary needs to be a bigger part of the discussion.
Because Al was great, but he spent his entire career manning the blueline with a similarly great defenseman. If not Gary on the Flames, it was Chris Pronger on the Blues. We’re talking players being all sybiotic and whatnot, making each other great.
Because the Al and Gary show was a headlining event for a long time in Calgary. The two spent so much time on the power play, mostly always scoring thanks to smart coaching, talented players, and 90’s goaltending.
Not that Suter’s individual accomplishments went unnoticed. He was an all star in 1988, 89, and 91 as well as his aforementioned 1986 appearance, played for Team USA in 2 Canada Cups, and even had a 91 point season AS A DEFENSEMAN in 1987-88.
Of course, the big get was in 1989, when Team Suter and other various Hall of Fame caliber Calgary Flames did what they had set out to do for generations, winning the Stanley Cup in 1989, against those very same pesky Canadiens. Not that Suter was a big part of the Cup win, he only played 5 games in the playoff campaign, but a Stanley Cup ring is a Stanley Cup ring, RIGHT GARY LEEMAN???
All told, as a Calgary Flame, Gary Suter notched 565 points, which still places him squarely in 5th place all time in Calgary history. Not bad for an undeappreciated defenseman.
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