UMass-Lowell defenseman Jake Suter has been a stabilizing force for his team in the two years he has been with the River Hawks. The son of former NHL defenseman Gary Suter and the cousin of Minnesota Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, Jake played two junior seasons prior to joining UMass-Lowell in 2011-12, first with the Owatonna Express of the NAHL, and then with the Sioux City Musketeers of the USHL. A stay-at-home style of defenseman, Suter managed a goal and six assists through 40 games this season.
Hockey's Future caught up with Suter after practice on Wednesday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA.
Hockey's Future: Were you a recruit of Norm Bazin?
Jake Suter: Yeah I actually committed really late in August (2011). August 8th I think the day was. Yup I came in with the new coaching staff.
HF: How did he sell you on picking UMass-Lowell?
JS: Cam Ellsworth, our assistant coach here, was my assistant coach at Sioux City. And I aged out of the USHL, and I was going to probably play Division III. And they just gave me a chance here and it's worked out beyond belief so far. It's been good.
HF: What did they say? Were they offering you a specific role on the team?
JS: Not at all. They just old me to come in and I'd have a fair chance to prove myself. They've been more than fair and have rewarded me for doing good. Like I said, coming in I would never expect anything like this and it's been awesome so far.
HF: So you weren't expecting to be playing in the Frozen Four when you committed last August?
JS: Oh no, my whole class came into a team that had five wins before and new coaches. We just came in and the whole culture is just so professional. I didn't expect this.
HF: Can you compare playing for UMass-Lowell to Sioux City? What are some of the adjustments that you had to make?
JS: It's faster and more physical. But I think the biggest thing is just the college atmosphere. All the guys, we're around each other all day. We go to class together, we live together at the dorms, see each other every day, so it's awesome. I mean we're all so close. I think that's the biggest difference between college and juniors. Just how close everybody is together.
HF: Who are you rooming with?
JS: Zack Kamrass.
HF: What's he like as a roommate?
JS: Well he kind of takes care of me sometimes. He's real mature, real neat, and I'm kind of messy sometimes, so opposite attracts I guess. But no it's good I love living with him.
HF: I have to ask the inevitable, what's it like having a father with NHL experience?
JS: Oh, It's unbelievable. Just the knowledge that he has. He's real good. He doesn't tell me stuff – like he watches all my games. He waits for me to ask questions. Like if I have a question about a certain play in the game he'll know what I'm talking about and just be so good at giving me advice but not being too much. It's amazing, I'm extremely blessed to have him as well as my uncles Bob and John, who both played Division I college hockey, and my cousin Ryan. It's good.
HF: So it's been pretty beneficial to have people in your family who have had the college hockey experience before?
JS: Definitely. Anything that I'll be going through, wherever hockey takes me, they've been through it already, so if I ever have any problems or need advice, they've been there already and done that.
HF: Have you talked to your cousin Ryan about playing in a Frozen Four yet?
JS: (smiling) Nah…well yeah, I talked to him at the regional after we played Wisconsin but he's got so many games going on right now. He just told me to enjoy it. It's been awesome so far.
HF: For the uninitiated, can you describe what type of player you are?
JS: Probably about as different from my dad as could possibly be when it comes to playing. He was real offensive and everything, and I'm just kind of a stay-at-home defenseman I guess. I try to block some shots, take care of my own zone, and do a good job with that. Just be a consistent safe player and join the offense when I get an opportunity to.
HF: Do you play with a bit of an ornery streak? Your dad would occasionally get in the face of guys.
JS: Yeah sometimes. We are known for probably a bit of a temper. I just try and be hard to play against I guess. That'd be a good way of putting it.
HF: Can you talk about the adjustment from last year to this year. It seems like a lot of young players have taken a prominent role this season.
JS: Oh yeah. Last year coming in, it was just…I don't even know. It was hard to imagine what we were going through last year after the five win year then going to 20 wins and making the tournament was just crazy and this year I mean, we had way higher expectations coming into the year. We started out rough and that made us better I think; starting out 2-6-1 I think we kind of believed the headlines a bit, and once we started getting back to our hockey… it was good.
HF: Can you talk about teammate Scott Wilson (PIT)? He's been the top scorer for your team since Norm Bazin took over two years ago. What's it like playing with him and practicing against him?
JS: He's unbelievable. I give him a hard time sometimes, tell him he stole some of those moves from me but I don't think that's true. He's so good with the puck. So crafty, so smooth. Even in practice, you'll see him do things and I'll just sit back and say 'wow.' I have no idea how he pulls some of those moves off. Great teammate too. Great guy in the locker room. One of the most humble guys on the team. It's awesome.
HF: Did he prepare you guys for the Consol, because he does know his way around the building.
JS: (laughs) Yeah he's been here a couple times. But no, not too much. He's kind of quiet when he comes, doesn't talk too much about the whole Pittsburgh thing. Let us figure it out on our own, get lost around the city and the rink.
HF: UML has one of the best goaltenders in the nation playing behind you in Connor Hellebuyck (WPG). What's that like playing in front of a player like that? Does it give you confidence as a defenseman, that if you accidently do slip up, chances are he's going to bail you out?
JS: It is unbelievable having that much confidence in a goalie because, like you said, if you do make a mistake or leave a guy open, you'll have confidence that he'll be able to make the save and he's just unbelievable. He's like [Scott Wilson] in practice, you seem him make some saves, it's just like 'how and the heck did he do that?' We're very lucky to have him here and enjoying it.
HF: As a stay-at-home defenseman do you end up talking to him a lot?
JS: Yeah I try to. We talk a lot. Pretty loose actually between both of us. I mean if I block a shot in front of him I'll hear him yell from the net 'good job' and everything. He gets a lot of credit and he's always directing it away from him to the defense and forwards. That just speaks to how good of a teammate he is for us.
HF: Is there any particular parts of your game that you addressed at the beginning of the season that you think you have improved, from then to now?
JS: Probably just being better at what I do defensively. Improving offensively. Getting shots through, stuff like that. Moving the puck quicker. Not being afraid to join the offensive as much. Just trying to be as good as I can be at what I do. And play my role the best I can to help the team succeed.
HF: Do you think you are playing more instinctively as you gain more experience?
JS: Oh yeah. Definitely, especially when you get to this time of the year. The playoffs are so important, you have to rely on [your instincts] when you get down to crunch time. It's been a good ride and hopefully we can keep it going.
HF: It's still early but is there anything you plan on working on for the off-season?
JS: Definitely. Just keep working on my skating and footwork. That's the biggest thing for me. It improved a lot over this past year. It's something I focused on last year. Just quickness in the corners, stuff like that. But yeah, that's probably the biggest thing.
Follow Ian Altenbaugh on Twitter via @IanAltenbaugh