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Wisconsin’s Lone Star Hat Trick

By Matt Carey, Contributor, 04/18/24, 2:30PM CDT


Disclaimer: All opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Matt Carey and do not reflect the opinions of Wisconsin Prep Hockey or its partners.

Joe Pavelski, Ryan Suter, and Craig Smith lead Dallas Stars into Stanley Cup Playoffs

Wisconsin’s native sons Joe Pavelski, Ryan Suter, and Craig Smith have led the 2023/24 Dallas Stars to a regular season first place in the NHL’s Western Conference. The Stars trio of Pavelski, Suter, and Smith represent the first time three youth hockey players that grew up in Wisconsin are skating on the same NHL team at the same time.

All three NHL players have roots that run deep in Wisconsin. Each played youth hockey for a WAHA (USA Hockey’s affiliate in Wisconsin) association: Pavelski with Stevens Point Youth Hockey; Suter for the Madison Patriots and later the Madison Capitols; and Smith with McFarland Youth Hockey, Patriots, and Capitols.

Joe Pavelski

In high school, Joe ‘Plover Flash’ Pavelski played 9th, 10th, and 11th grades for SPASH, and 10th and 11th grades for Team Wisconsin (TW). As a 10th grader, Pavelski was on TW’s first team to advance to the USA Hockey Nationals in 2001.

Pavelski’s TW team steamrolled its competition at the 2001 Nationals. In the quarterfinals TW was eliminated by a Jr. Devils goalie that played the game of his life. Pavelski even had a penalty shot but didn’t score. If the goalie from New Jersey had known he stopped a future NHL All Star, he may have kept the puck and got an autograph!

As an 11th grader in spring 2002, Joe Pavelski had one of the greatest springs in the history of WAHA and WIAA hockey. During a period of four weekends over a five-week period, Pavelski led SPASH to its first WIAA state championship, and TW to a tier 1 state championship, USA Hockey Central District championship, and a Tier 1 USA Hockey national championship (Wisconsin’s first tier 1 national championship).

As a 12th grader Pavelski made the leap to the USHL’s Waterloo Blackhawks. Success followed the Plover Flash. Pavelski became the first player from Wisconsin to be named USHL Rookie of the Year. The following season he was named Junior Player of the Year after sensationally leading Waterloo to the franchise’s first Clark Cup.

After two spectacular seasons in the USHL, Pavelski returned home to play for the Wisconsin Badgers. As a freshman Pavelski led the Badgers in points. As a sophomore he led the Badgers in points again and guided UW to a 2006 NCAA championship. Pavelski jumped to the NHL after his sophomore season.

Joe Pavelski is currently in his 18th NHL season. He has been named an NHL All Star five times, represented the United States in two Olympics, one World Cup of Hockey, and one IIHF World Championship. During his spectacular career, Pavelski has been named captain both for his NHL team and for Team USA, which earned him the nickname ‘Captain America’.

Pavelski is now recognized as one of the greatest American-born hockey players ever. However, scouts were skeptical in his development years. When Joe Pavelski was in 10th and 11th grades, as TW’s GM, I shared info regarding him to countless junior scouts. There was tepid interest from most. The scouts were focused on measurables. Is he the fastest skater? No. Is he the biggest? No. Is he the strongest? No.

Joe Pavelski was noticed enough to be selected in the 2003 NHL draft, but 204 players were selected before him! It is a safe bet most NHL executives wish they could have a mulligan for the 2003 draft.

What makes this forward from Plover, Wisconsin, so special? Joe Pavelski has superb hockey sense. He sees the play before others do. Plus, he has phenomenal hand-eye coordination. Tying it all together is Pavelski’s stratospheric level inner drive and determination.

During the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs Pavelski was checked by the Minnesota Wild’s Matt Dumba. Pavelski’s body went parallel to the ice, and he landed headfirst. Watching the replays in slow motion, my heart stopped, and it looked like Joe’s 17th NHL season could be his last. Two weeks later the Plover Flash returned to action and scored 4 goals against Seattle. He was the oldest player in NHL history to score 4 goals in a playoff game.

Ryan Suter and Joe Pavelski are only six months apart in age, and both played for the Wisconsin Badgers. Yet, Suter and Pavelski did not play together on the same Badgers team. Ryan Suter departed for professional hockey following the 2003/04 season, which was Suter’s lone season to play for the Badgers. Pavelski joined the Badgers at the start of the 2004/05 season.

Ryan Suter

Ryan Suter was born into what could be described as a First Family of Hockey in Wisconsin. Ryan’s grandfather, Marlowe Suter, is a founder of the Capitols AAA youth program and described by players from the 1960’s to 1980’s as one of the best youth coaches in Wisconsin. Marlowe was inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.

Ryan’s father, Bob Suter, played on Team USA’s 1980 Miracle on Ice team. Prior to the 1980 Olympics, Bob played at the University of Wisconsin and was a key player on the Badgers 1977 NCAA championship team. As a high school player, Bob played a pivotal role on two WIAA championship teams, 1973 and 1975, at Madison East.

Bob Suter dedicated his life to hockey. Bob coached teams at every level, plus he brought Wisconsin its first USHL franchise and Capitol Ice Arena to Middleton. In addition, he owned Suter’s Gold Medal Sports and helped thousands of players select the proper equipment. I got my goalie equipment from Bob, and it was the norm to hear banter about being a sieve! Underneath the fiery persona, Bob Suter loved teaching kids how to play hockey.

Bob Suter was inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame in 2001, the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2003 as a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice Team, and the UW Athletics Hall of Fame (posthumously) in 2017. Sadly, Bob Suter died unexpectedly at age 57 on September 9, 2014. However, his legacy lives on.

Ryan’s uncle, John Suter (Bob’s older brother), was an excellent defenseman for Madison East and the Wisconsin Badgers. John won the WIAA championship in 1973 at Madison East, and the 1977 NCAA championship with the Badgers.

Ryan’s other uncle, Gary Suter (Bob’s younger brother), played two seasons for the Badgers prior to joining the NHL’s Calgary Flames. Gary was the first American to win the NHL’s Rookie of the Year award in 1986. He won the Stanley Cup in 1989, gold in the World Cup, and played in four NHL All Star games, two Olympics, and two Canada Cups. Gary retired in 2002 after 17 seasons in the NHL.

Gary Suter was inducted into the US Hockey Hall of Fame in 2011, the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame in 2013, and the UW Athletics Hall of Fame in 2022. Gary is currently an assistant coach, and his son (Ryan’s cousin), Jake Suter, a former captain at NCAA D-1 UMass Lowell, is head coach, at Lakeland High School in Minocqua, WI.

Ryan Suter has carried on the tradition of hockey excellence established by his elders. Ryan was drafted in the first round, 7th overall, in the 2003 NHL Draft. Ryan is currently in his 19th NHL season and has been named an NHL All Star three times, won a silver medal with Team USA in the 2010 Olympics, and three gold medals with Team USA in the IIHF World Juniors.

Ryan Suter’s impact on hockey in Wisconsin is significant. Ryan owns the USHL Madison Capitols that play at Bob Suter’s Capitol Ice Arena. Even while playing in the NHL, Ryan Suter provides leadership for the Capitols teams back home in Wisconsin! His brother, Garrett, is president of the AAA youth Madison Capitols.

Craig Smith

Craig ‘Smitty’ Smith is five years younger than Pavelski and Suter, so the three of them never played on the same team until they formed Wisconsin’s Lone Star Hat Trick with the Dallas Stars. Nevertheless, Smith grew up in Madison and was influenced by Pavelski and Suter.

Craig Smith played youth hockey for the Madison Capitols when Bob Suter was leading the organization. When Smitty was a peewee, Pavelski’s 2002 national championship TW team caught his eye. Smitty shared “I watched Team Wisconsin’s championship team (2002) and I really looked up to those players. I wanted to play on that team (TW), and I got a chance my sophomore year.”

Craig Smith played 9th & 10th grades in the WIAA for Madison La Follette*, and 10th grade for Team Wisconsin. After 10th grade in 2006, Smith followed in the footsteps of Joe Pavelski and joined the Waterloo Blackhawks. Coincidentally, Smith’s teammate for two seasons in Waterloo was Joe Pavelski’s younger brother, Scott.

Smith developed his game in the USHL. He arrived in the USHL as an 11th grader and each year his point total increased. In his third season, Smith had 76 points, which was 22 points more than any other player on the Waterloo Blackhawks.

Smith became a highly coveted college hockey recruit. However, there was never any doubt where he would play college hockey. Smitty shared “Growing up in Madison it was always my dream to play for the Badgers.” After Smith’s third season with Waterloo, he was drafted by the Nashville Predators, where Ryan Suter was already playing.

Craig Smith played two seasons for the Badgers. As a sophomore, Smith was one of the Badgers captains and he finished second in points. He made the jump to the NHL and joined Ryan Suter and the Nashville Predators after his sophomore season. Smith is currently in his 13th NHL season.

Fellow players praise Smitty as a teammate. “Craig Smith is one of the most genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with. As an athlete he embodies everything Wisconsin hockey players should be. He is a devoted family man and a role model for many. Craig Smith made a significant impact on my life.” Podge Turnbull, Smitty’s teammate at UW and Waterloo, and current HS hockey coach in Hayward, WI.

Let’s hear from Pavelski, Suter, and Smith!

  • What do you enjoy doing outside of hockey?

Pavelski: Spend time with my family. I like golfing, fishing, and hunting.

Smith: Hanging out with family. Muskie fishing.

Suter: Spending time with family on the boat, golfing or watching kids play sports.

  • You all have kids…do they play hockey?

Pavelski: Ryan (Suter) and I have kids that play on the same team.

Smith: My boy is 10 months old. I’ll have to wait and see…if it’s hockey, great!

  • If you didn’t make it to the NHL, what career would you have chosen?

Pavelski: Maybe golf pro or in business.

Smith: I do not know. Not sure.

Suter: Maybe a rink manager. I love being at the rink.

  • Who was the most influential person in your life?

Pavelski: My Mom & Dad. My coaches also. My high school coach Jack Stoskopf, juniors PK O’Handley (Superior native), the coaches at Wisconsin-Eaves and Troy Ward, and Pete (Pete DeBoer), also Ron Wilson, Todd McLellan.

Smith: My Dad. He’s had a huge influence on me.

Suter: My Dad. He was always humble.

  • What did it mean to you to play for the Badgers…how did you decide to play for UW?

Pavelski: It was a dream. I instantly knew Wisconsin was the place for me when I toured campus and met the coaching staff.

Smith: Growing up in Madison I was a big Badgers fan. I didn’t watch the NHL as a kid…I watched the Badgers. That’s where I always wanted to be. I looked up to Jeff Sauer when I was a kid. Coach Sauer retired before I got to Wisconsin. The first time I met him (Sauer) I was returning from Europe after playing for Team USA. He (Sauer) was in the airport behind me. I walked back and introduced myself. I will always remember that.

Suter: When I grew up, I only dreamed of playing for the Badgers. My two uncles and Dad were Badgers. That’s all I knew.

  • Were the three of you friends before playing together in Dallas?

Pavelski: I played a couple summers for Caps (Madison Capitols AAA youth) growing up and knew Ryan.

Smith: My first year in NHL was in Nashville with Ryan.

Suter: I played against Joe growing up and played together on a summer team. I always saw Craig around the rink when we were younger, and played with him in Nashville.

  • Do you work out & skate together in summer?

Pavelski: Yes, we work out in my gym, and we skate (together).

Smith: Yeah, we do at Joe’s (Pavelski’s). He has a gym in the garage.

Suter: We skate together. We work out on our own.

  • Where is your dream vacation?

Pavelski: Cabo.

Smith: I love the Smoky Mountains and the lakes in northern Wisconsin, but a dream vacation would be in Switzerland.

Suter: I really enjoyed Maui on my honeymoon.

  • Pickup truck or sports car?

Pavelski: RAM TRX.

Smith: Chevy Silverado.

Suter: I will probably get a truck when I retire.

  • Chocolate cake, brownie, or apple pie?

Pavelski: Cake with ice cream.

Smith: Brownie.

Suter: Apple pie with vanilla ice cream.

Pavelski, Suter, and Smith have a combined 50 seasons in the NHL. They have traveled coast-to-coast and around the globe to play for NHL teams and Team USA. They could live anywhere, but each returns home to Wisconsin every summer to enjoy life on the lake. The faithful in Wisconsin are cheering that they return home this summer hoisting the Stanley Cup!

Yours for hockey, Matt Carey

*Craig Smith’s last season of high school hockey is also Madison La Follette’s final season as a single high school hockey team. After the 2005/2006 season, Madison La Follette joined a co-op with Madison East.


Bob Suter Tribute (Video)

We were unable to upload the Suter Video, please click on the above link.

Pavelski's Dallas Locker

Suter's Dallas Locker

Smith's Dallas Locker

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