Jack Suter stepping up, filling hole at center on second line

Five assists in three games with Leonard and Trivigno

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Jack Suter stepping up, filling hole at center on second line

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

Nina Walat

By Liam Flaherty, Assistant Sports Editor

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Jack Suter has seen it all with Massachusetts.

Committed in May 2016, just two months after Greg Carvel was hired as the new coach, Suter is one of the longest tenured Minutemen (4-1, 0-1 Hockey East) that arrived in Amherst as part of Carvel’s first recruiting class, alongside fellow seniors Jake McLaughlin and Niko Hildenbrand.

In his first three campaigns at UMass, following a pair of seasons with the Sioux Falls Stampede in the United States Hockey League, the Nebraska native was a mainstay on the third and fourth lines early on, shifting through the lineup on a night to night basis, filling whatever role was asked of him.

From key faceoff man to penalty-killing guru, Suter has filled a lot of roles and excelled at all of them. Now, he’s conquering another.

After sitting out the season opener against Rensselaer, No. 10 jumped into the lineup for his first game of the season on the third line with Cal Kiefiuk and Reed Lebster in the Northeastern loss.

Then, against Union – after Carvel sent a message to his lineup by sitting his top two centers for the series – Suter started playing with Bobby Trivigno and John Leonard up on the second line, where he’s used his battle mentality and speed to win pucks and make plays for the goal-scorers. Since jumping up in the lineup and joining Trivigno and Leonard on the line, he’s accumulated five helpers in three games.

“Every year you need guys to step up and do more than you thought they would,” Carvel said after practice leading up to this weekend’s Northeastern rematch. “Jack went home and had a great summer. He’s determined, he’s committed, and you can see it in him, he’s in great shape. He’s always been a smart player, he has good skill, it’s just a matter of how hard he wants to play the game when you get into those desperate situations, and he put himself into one and worked himself into the lineup.”

In the absence of Philip Lagunov, Suter’s made a seamless transition joining Leonard and Trivigno.

“I played with Sutesy a bit my freshman year and a little bit last year,” Leonard said, “and he’s a really hard-working guy who plays the way Carv and Benny [Ben Barr] and DeMike [Jared DeMichiel] want us to play. He’s probably one of our best systematic players. He does everything right so it’s awesome playing with him.”

“Really trustful player,” Trivigno said after the trio combined for eight points in the sweep of the Dutchmen. “You always know where he’s gonna be. He works super hard and he’s really accountable.”

In his role centering that powerful forward duo, one that combined for 29 goals last season and possesses some of the best chemistry on the team, Suter is involved in the offense now more than ever.

During the offseason, the senior spent a lot of time working to up his intensity and win more battles.

That work became very apparent when he kicked off Leonard’s game-winning marker late in the third period of Friday’s win over American International. As AIC defender Jeff Baum tried to break out, Suter chased him down and intercepted him at the blueline, lifting Baum’s stick and outmuscling him to keep it alive in the zone. Leonard, skating backwards in the neutral zone, anticipating a rush by the Yellow Jackets, stopped on a dime when he saw what his line mate was doing and rushed back to help him out. No. 9 flew into the picture, picked the puck up off of Suter, and beat the last defenseman in his way before burying a snapshot past Zackarias Skog. The netminder slammed his stick into the left post, knowing Suter’s forced turnover was costly.

The goal doesn’t happen without his effort, and UMass fed off it, scoring twice more in 2:15.

Will Katcher

“It’s been a lot of fun for me,” Suter said.

“[Trivigno and Leonard] make everyone around them better and they know how to put the puck in the back of the net, so it’s been rewarding. I just try to use my speed, get in on a forecheck and get them the puck. I think we work the cycle pretty well and can make some plays off rushes as well.”

“I tell every single guy; you will get your opportunity,” Carvel said. “I don’t know how it’s going to come, but you will get it. You gotta be ready for it, and Jack’s done a great job. He’s filled a big hole and not only filled it, he made us better than we were before he got in there.”

From the five wins and 17-game losing streak in him and Carvel’s first season together in 2016-17 all the way to 31 wins, a national title game appearance and respect in Hockey East, Suter really has seen it all. The highs, the lows, the wins, the losses and the stars, but most importantly the culture; the one Carvel began to implement when he landed the job coming from St. Lawrence.

Last season, it was veteran guys like Brett Boeing and Kurt Keats who pulled the weight as the select few remaining from that first season under Carvel that witnessed the program’s turnaround first-hand. Now, the group has shrunk, and Suter’s one of three guys left.

“I mean, I’ve grown with it,” Suter said. “Our first year it was a very tough, challenging process – the coaches were hard on us. But I think it’s definitely made me, Jake and Niko better players and better people because of it. Going through three full years of that I think it’s our job to pass that energy and culture along to the younger players, and we were part of Carvel’s first class so that’s always something that’s fun to be a part of as well.”

For a guy so respected in the locker room for his versatility and accountability, on the ice and off it as one of the quiet, lead-by-example types on a roster deeper than ever, Suter’s earned his spot.

“He’s one of those guys that his teammates are happy for him because he’s such a good kid,” Carvel said. “He’s a high-end student, high character kid. The way he plays the game is very similar to his personality, just low key, tries to do his job, keeps his head down. You like to see good things happen to good kids and that’s what’s happening to Sutesy.”

Liam Flaherty can be reached at [email protected] and on Twitter @_LiamFlaherty.