As he prepares to take another step down a road that he once wasn’t sure he wanted to travel, Garrett Suter is largely unchanged.
He’ll be at Capitol Ice Arena around 8 a.m. to get the facility ready for that day’s users. He’ll climb aboard the ice resurfacer when it’s needed.
He’ll put on the skates, loop a whistle around his neck and direct a hockey practice, but now it’s a different group surrounding him and a different kind of personnel accompanying those players.
Suter, 29, starts his first season as coach and general manager of the United States Hockey League’s Madison Capitols at Green Bay tonight, after three successful years of leading the Capitols AAA youth program’s under-18 team.
Getting used to the business side of the junior hockey league has been the biggest adjustment, Suter said. On the ice, he doesn’t intend on deviating from what’s worked in the past.
“The kids are the same. They’re the same age,” he said. “Obviously, the talent level is a lot higher but they’re still young kids and they need to be taught off the ice as well as on the ice.”
With family advisers and agents replacing parents as those delivering sometimes pointed feedback to Suter, he said there’s a familiarity in handling the concerns.
And there’s a sense of familiarity in the head coach of a team with the Capitols moniker being named Suter.
Bob Suter, Garrett’s father, for years ran the Capitols youth program and the two-rink Capitol Ice Arena facility in Middleton. Garrett Suter returned home in 2012 after a brief minor league career to join him.
“I honestly never intended to get this involved in the coaching side,” Garrett Suter said. “I always thought I’d come back and help with the rink and oversee the program. It just kind of worked out the way it did when I got back.”
He started helping his dad with coaching, but when they realized there was room for only one of their intense coaching demeanors, Bob stepped aside.
When his father passed away two years ago, Garrett Suter took on more of the responsibilities at the rink and with managing the Capitols youth program, duties he carries along with his USHL team role.
Bob Suter “chose a life of providing the game of hockey for the masses,” said Tom Sagissor, a former University of Wisconsin player who is part of the USHL Capitols’ ownership group. And now Garrett Suter is refining it to apply to the 23 players on the roster.
“Nobody’s going to outwork them,” Sagissor said. “Nobody’s going to outwork Garrett Suter. He’s got a work ethic that’s second to none.”
Capitols players that have played for Suter in the past know what they’re in for this season: a baseline of hard work and demands of accountability.
“He expects a lot out of you, and he’s definitely going to get it out of you one way or another,” said Capitols forward Kasey Fitzjerrells, who played for Suter in the youth program for the past three years.
Fitzjerrells is one of six on the USHL team’s 23-player roster who won the North American Prospects Hockey League title with Suter’s AAA Capitols team last season.
In three seasons coaching at the AAA level, Suter was 86-22-6.
A number of people described him as a player’s coach, someone who has a good rapport with players and who rewards meeting expectations.
“I want them to trust me,” Suter said. “I want them to come into my office. I want them to ask me what’s going on. I want them to come to me if they have a problem. I don’t need a barrier of assistant coaches or anybody else.”
At the start of the 2016-17 season, the Capitols’ roster features nine veterans of at least 10 USHL games and six others who’ve had some experience in the country’s highest junior league.
Eight players have made oral commitments to colleges, including three to UW: goaltender Daniel Lebedeff, forward Mick Messner and defenseman Philip Nyberg.
The team’s first two USHL seasons ended in records just under .500 and without trips to the postseason.
For players who have been with the team all three seasons, Suter is their third head coach. Luke Strand ran the team in 2014-15 and Troy Ward took over for 2015-16. Steve Miller was named the team’s first head coach but resigned before the start of the season.
The difference between Suter and his predecessors, Capitols forward Eugene Fadyeyev said, is that Suter doesn’t see his players in a professional mindset.
“Garrett coaches us as kids, as guys who are still maturing,” said Fadyeyev, who has played for both the Capitols’ AAA and USHL programs. “We still have to go through college, still have to do schoolwork. And that’s what we’re here for, to mature and to play hockey.”
Suter said he wasn’t sure he was ready to take on the USHL coaching role when his brother Ryan, an NHL star and the Capitols’ chairman, asked him last May.
Garrett Suter was concerned about making sure the youth programs were in a good place before he could commit to the new job.
Now that he has, he said he’s ready to help build some coaching consistency with the team.
“I care for the kids a lot,” Suter said. “I want them to succeed. I’ll do whatever I can for them and to help them.”