Talkin’ hockey with the Suters: From skating in Levi’s to B Barn to coaching …

September 10, 2014 Posted by admin

Bring three members of the Suter family around a table to talk about hockey, and expect to be there for a while.

One of Madison’s prominent hockey clans can talk the game as well as they play it. So we brought together Marlowe Suter, 73, and two of his sons, Bob, 51, and Gary, 44, in the lobby of Middleton’s Capitol Ice Arena to relive some family history and talk about youth hockey.

They all have a large interest. In 1977, Marlowe was one of the founders of the Madison Capitols, a youth program that in future years brought Midget AAA hockey to the area and served as a springboard for a number of players on their way to Division I colleges and the pros.

Bob now runs the program, and Gary coaches its top team, which competes in the Midwest Elite Hockey League against well-funded programs out of Chicago and Detroit.

The Capitols program started with 13-year-old Gary in Bantams, the only team the program had at that point. It has been quite a story for the Suters since.

Bob, Gary and their brother John all played for the University of Wisconsin, followed years later by Bob’s son, Ryan. Bob won the gold medal with the 1980 U.S. Olympic team. Gary won the Stanley Cup with the NHL’s Calgary Flames in 1989, then won an Olympic silver in 2002.

The Capitols organization now includes 12 teams, four of them in an emerging girls hockey landscape.

The program isn’t the only thing that has changed in Madison hockey, and that’s what we asked the Suters to talk about. Here’s a portion of the conversation.

Capital Times: Marlowe, how did you get into hockey?

Gary: Oh, here we go.

Marlowe: When I was a kid in the ’40s, there was no indoor ice. So we just had old Franklin Field on the south side, and Vilas had a rink, and Tenney and Olbrich. The kids just went down there and skated. Each park had a little team. That’s the only competition we had. I didn’t see indoor ice until I was 25 years old. Actually, I saw indoor ice before that in Eagle River, but it was just natural ice. If it was hot outside, the ice melted and ran out the doors. If it was below zero outside, it was 10 below inside the joint. The first indoor ice, artificial, was really down in Milwaukee at State Fair Park. They had an old rink down there.

I went to old Central High School and we started a team down there in 1949. We had a coach that couldn’t skate. Then we got Pat Willis, an old minor pro player that came to town here. He would coach us, and our regular high school coach would sit in the car and watch because it was cold. Pat taught all the kids on the south side. And then pretty soon West started, and then East came along, and Edgewood. We’d have to go to Stevens Point and Wausau and Rhinelander (for games); they were the only teams that I think were going in the state. They all had uniforms; we wore Levi’s and old football JV jerseys.

Gary: Levi’s?

Marlowe: Yeah, that’s all we had, old Levi’s.

Bob: Magazines for shin guards?

Marlowe: We had shin guards, but they weren’t very good.

Gary: What a crew you guys looked like, huh?

Marlowe: We were a crew. No helmets, no nothing.

Gary: Then after that you played with Jingles (William O’Brien) and those guys.

Marlowe: Then I joined the Cardinals (a team in Rockford, Ill.) and played there for 10 years or so until Bob and John were 3, 4 years old. Then I got started with Fenton Kelsey down at Hartmeyer. That’s kind of how things took off.

CT: When Hartmeyer opened …

Marlowe: It was outdoor ice for a couple of years.

CT: … did things really pick up then?

Marlowe: The south side was going. They had a pretty good group going. The west side was going.

Bob: But they skated outside.

Marlowe: They skated outdoors. The east side had a program going. And even Monona came in with a program back then. And then, of course, when Hartmeyer went indoors, everybody kind of started going there, and we really had to scrap for time.

Gary: Was Hartmeyer the first rink in Madison?

Marlowe: Yep, first indoor. And we used to get ice there for $25 an hour. Now what is it? A couple hundred?

Bob: Yeah, over $200.

Marlowe: Twenty-five bucks. No wonder poor Fenton went bankrupt. He didn’t charge enough, didn’t charge the kids. He let everybody come in there.

Gary: He went bankrupt down there and the city took it over?

Marlowe: The city took it over from him, yeah …

Bob: Back then, we used to have practice 5, 6 in the morning. Now, kids and parents, if they’ve got to get on before 7, 8, they complain.

Marlowe: Yeah, the high school always went down at 6 in the morning.

CT: When everyone had to go to Hartmeyer, then the UW program started, did it feel like things were growing? Did it feel like things were booming at that point?

Marlowe: I think things were going pretty good. Everybody was getting a lot of kids.

Bob: See, but back then in the beginning, I think it started at Peewee even. You had to learn to skate, and then you went to Peewee-Bantam. I don’t think there was Squirts then.

Marlowe (to Bob): You and Jim Weston were playing Peewee at 7 years old. So the kids were from 7 to 12, playing in that same deal. Remember we’d go to Superior? I think you were playing in the goal in one of those state tournaments, and I mean, there was this high (puts his hands about a foot apart) between your head and the top of the net. They’d shoot the pucks right over his head.

Gary: They didn’t pull him?

Marlowe: Didn’t have anybody to pull him. We had about 12 kids up there, and when you’re 7 years old playing against 12 years old, it just didn’t work out too good.

Bob: But when Bob Johnson came to Wisconsin and started the new era at Hartmeyer, that’s when I think it really grew, because he used to referee a lot of the city games and stuff.

Gary: He did?

Bob: Yeah, he’d referee a lot. Remember we had the city tournament at Franklin outside? I remember that all the time. We played against Mark Johnson and Eric Heiden and all of them on the west side. The Lakers, that’s where we were. The Lakers were a lot of Maple Bluff kids.

Gary: East side versus west side.

Bob: That’s where the east side versus the west side really got going. And Bob Johnson, I remember he’d referee the city tournament.

Marlowe: He probably wanted to keep you guys from roughing up the west siders, knowing Bob.

Bob: We played there. And then we used to play at — remember B Barn? There was a place called B Barn at the Coliseum. One of the barns, and one of them was marked B Barn. And they used to just flood that.

Marlowe: That was before Hartmeyer even, wasn’t it?

Gary: I remember playing at Barn B.

Bob: I think it was after.

Marlowe: It was about the same time because we couldn’t get ice at Hartmeyer. They had old boards made out of, really, just 1-by-6 boards, weren’t they? I mean, it was crude. And then every time you got done with it, the parents had to shovel off the rinks and get ready for the next group. …

CT: What do you think of youth hockey these days compared to that?

Marlowe: I don’t think there’s enough kids around, is there? I mean, even football now. East High School used to have 200 or 300 kids for football. Now they can’t hardly put a team on the field. I just think the kids are doing something else now.

Bob: There’s certainly enough kids around, but there’s baseball and soccer, and there’s lacrosse.

Gary: PlayStation, Xbox. God, when we were kids, we’d go in the backyard and play stuff. Now they’re all inside.

Marlowe: Well, we had a big rink in our backyard all the time.

Bob: In the garage, too.

(To Marlowe:) Didn’t you flood the garage?

Marlowe: I took a sprinkling can and sprayed it on there. Your mom came in the garage one night and banged right into the end of it because she couldn’t stop. That was just a little patch, but it was a place where they were 2 and 3, they could get out there and monkey around out there.

Bob: We used to always build our own outdoor rinks or otherwise play in the driveway in boots. We’d have big games all the time. Now you can’t get kids to …

Marlowe: … even get out. Well, the Lakers used to spend some time over at Lakewood School there, skating for more ice time. And now I don’t think you could hardly get the kids to go out.

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