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Bob and Ryan Suter photo

In this 2004 photo, Bob Suter and son Ryan display gold medals earned during their hockey careers. Bob won gold with the U.S. Olympic team in Lake Placid in 1980. Ryan, then a freshman at UW, won gold at the '04 World Junior Championships.

Bob Suter, a celebrated member of one of the best-known families in American hockey history, died Tuesday of an apparent heart attack. He was 57.

The Madison native was a rugged, standout defenseman for the University of Wisconsin men’s hockey team and helped author one of the greatest moments in sports history as a member of the “Miracle on Ice.”

He subsequently cleared a path to prominence for his brother Gary and son Ryan — both attended UW, starred as defensemen in the National Hockey League and played for their country in the Olympics — and helped nurture the game as overseer of the Madison Capitols youth program for boys and girls.

“He had such a passion for hockey,” said Mark Johnson, the UW women’s hockey coach who played alongside Bob Suter with the Badgers and again with Team USA in the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York.

In what is regarded by many as the greatest upset in sports history, the Americans knocked off the heavily favored Soviet Union en route to the gold medal.

Replica sweaters from the unforgettable experience that Johnson and Suter shared more than 34 years ago hang in the lobby of LaBahn Arena, where the Badgers play their home games.

Suter was stricken in the lobby at Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton, the facility he co-owned and where he coordinated nationally recognized youth hockey programs for years.

Suter also owned Gold Medal Sports, a sporting goods store on Madison’s East Side with a second location at Capitol Ice Arena.

Hundreds of boys and girls in the Madison area — including another son, Garrett — grew up playing and loving the game of hockey because of Suter’s earnest grassroots efforts.

“He had a huge impact on hockey everywhere,” Johnson said of his friend.

Bob Suter is the first player from the “Miracle on Ice” roster to pass away. Herb Brooks, the iconic Team USA coach, died in a car accident in 2003.

Dave Fischer, communications director for USA Hockey, said the game lost “an absolutely terrific ambassador” and “someone that has spent so much to our sport over the course of a lifetime.” 

Suter was selected in two professional drafts in 1977, by the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings and the World Hockey Association’s Birmingham Bulls. He signed with the Minnesota North Stars in 1981, but spent the season with a minor league affiliate and retired in 1982 without playing in the NHL.

His brother and son, however, expanded the Suter hockey legacy. Gary not only became a Hall of Fame defenseman in the NHL from 1985 to 2002, he was a two-time Olympian who won a silver medal in 2002.

Ryan, one of Bob’s three sons, is an NHL all-star with the Minnesota Wild who won a silver medal with Team USA in 2010 in the first of his two Olympic appearances.

Bob Suter is the only “Miracle on Ice” player to have his son follow in his Olympic footsteps.

UW men’s coach Mike Eaves had the distinction of playing with Bob Suter — they, along with Johnson, won a NCAA title with the Badgers in 1977 — and coaching Ryan at their alma mater.

“This is a heartbreaking day,” Eaves said in a statement released by the school. “He was the ultimate teammate. He could skate like the wind and was as hard of a competitor that I ever knew. He has passed much too young.”

Ryan Suter played for Team USA during the Games in Sochi, Russia earlier this year and his father tagged along. Fischer remembered a long, well-into-the-night discussion with the Suters about the sport they love.

“We had robust conversations about the development of the sport and what’s going on,” Fischer said of his periodic talks with the elder Suter.

“He’s so passionate and cares so much about the game. That was always first and foremost. At the end of the day, he was just a terrific man.”

Steve Libert, the former boys coach at Middleton High School, said coaching alongside Bob Suter taught him a lot about human relations.

“One of Bob’s unique talents was connecting with kids,” Libert wrote in an unsolicited email.

“He ribbed the kids and got ribbed by the kids. He helped them with equipment and gave them quarters to play bubble hockey. For children aged 5 to 105, Bob was like the fun uncle for a thousand kids that came through those doors.

“Bob did not care where a kid came from or what his or her name was. He helped them.”

Former UW men’s hockey winger Tom Sagissor is a longtime friend of the Suter family, so much so that he and Ryan have a financial stake in the new Madison Capitols entry in the U.S. Hockey League. Sagissor said Bob Suter lived by a single philosophy that he repeated often.

“It’s all about the kids,” Sagissor related. “He dedicated his life to kids and hockey. They were his passions.”

Funeral arrangements are pending. Bob Suter is survived by his wife Mary; parents Marlowe and Dodi; brothers Gary, John and Steve; sister Sandy; and sons Garrett, Justin and Ryan.

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