Sconnie Sports Talk

Past and present: Madison’s Olympic connection

Mark Johnson (left) and Bob Suter (right) in 1980. Image courtesy of the NY Daily News


The 1980 men’s Olympic hockey team is still talked about in this country as if it happened just last year. The success of that team, the underdog story of college kids defeating the mighty Soviet Union and the impact on the Cold War all resonate with the American people. A massive reason for that team’s success was in large part thanks to Madison natives Mark Johnson and Bob Suter.

Mark Johnson is still very well-known in the Wisconsin hockey community, as he is recognized as the women’s hockey coach before being recognized as a pretty good player himself. Well, he wasn’t just a pretty good player, Johnson was a really good player. He scored two goals in the game against the Soviets to help lead the U.S. to victory and was an X-factor throughout the Olympic tournament. Even with all the accolades Johnson has collected throughout his lifetime, last week he able to acquire another important medal. Johnson completed the Madison Iroman with his son Patrick and daughter Mikayla, both former Badgers, to capture yet another award.

If the Johnson family name is the gold standard in the Badger hockey community, then the Suter family name is the gold standard in the Madison youth hockey community. Bob Suter had played defense for Wisconsin and would join Mark Johnson as a gold medalist on the 1980 team. When his hockey career was over, he also went into coaching, just a different kind. Suter built the Capitol Ice Center in Middleton, WI. He would run the rink from dusk till dawn, coaching youth teams along the way. Bob’s son, Ryan is now an NHL defenseman on the Minnesota Wild. He recently wrote on article on “The Players’ Tribune” that better exemplifies his father’s commitment to the hockey community than I ever could. Ryan played for the Badgers before his NHL career and subsequent Olympic team selection. He would end up winning a silver medal with the U.S. at the 2010 games in Vancouver.

The 1980 team is in the past. As much as we love to remember them, the United States Olympic team is facing a new challenge. The NHL isn’t allowing their players to be released for the Olympics in Pyeongchang 2018. For the first time since 1980, the Olympic team will not have NHL players on it. The man who’s job it is to fill this roster in none other than University of Wisconsin head coach Tony Granato. Even though every country is on an even playing field as far as not having NHL players, that does not make Granato’s job any easier. As he looks for college talent, Americans playing in Europe or other lower-level professionals, the goal is still the same as it was 37 years ago; to write their name in history, just like Madison legends Mark Johnson and Bob Suter.