📝 by Chris Kuc | AHL On The Beat
Nathan Sucese had a simple approach when it came to making the Chicago Wolves roster this season.
“It was just grabbing on for dear life,” the 26-year-old said of the chance to join the defending Calder Cup champions. “When you get an opportunity, you have to run with it because you only get so many in this game. The opportunities go by fast if you don’t grab on.”
Sucese firmly grasped the professional tryout contract the Wolves extended him this offseason and took off with it. The 25-game PTO turned into a full AHL contract earlier this month after Sucese impressed the Wolves brass with his work ethic, hockey smarts and an early scoring touch.
The fact he signed a PTO with the Wolves over the summer after playing for the Iowa Wild and Tucson Roadrunners, respectively, the last two seasons drove Sucese to be at his best every time he took the ice
“What the PTO gives is that fear behind you that tomorrow is never given and you have to come to the rink every day like it might be your last, because it could be,” the Fairport, N.Y., native said. “When you walk into the rink and your stuff is still in the stall, it’s another opportunity to make an impression on the staff and management.
“I’d come in every day with a great attitude and trying to be the best teammate possible to hopefully earn the right for an opportunity for the next day and ultimately we got a contract done,” he added.
Sucese had five goals — included shorthanded scores on back-to-back nights in mid-November — in his first 10 games to solidify his spot with the Wolves.
“He came to camp betting on himself to be better than other players,” Wolves general manager Wendell Young said. “He’s a player that works hard every night. He deserved to get a contract, that’s the bottom line. With the way he played in camp and to start the season I think the contract should have been there even before he signed for the way he played and what he brings to the table.”
Sucese said signing the deal was a relief in the sense that he can at least relax a bit when it comes to his living arrangements.
“You can kind of open things up in your apartment and get stuff out of the closet that you might not have opened up,” he said with a smile.
But the security doesn’t mean Sucese plans to take things for granted.
“It’s day by day,” he said. “You never know if tomorrow is going to come. Pro hockey in a sense is a little bit ruthless. It’s just like the real world, right? If you don’t show up to work every day someone is going to pass you by, whether you’re in the business world or pro sports.”
Sucese’s journey to the Wolves has been an interesting one. After a four-year career at Penn State University, where he finished as the Nittany Lions’ all-time leader in points (140) and goals (61), he graduated in May of 2020 and signed an entry-level contract with the Arizona Coyotes.
Sucese didn’t see his first action as a pro for 10 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but when he eventually made his debut with the Roadrunners, the winger finished with six goals and seven assists in 36 games. Sucese followed that up with four goals and four assists in 43 games with the Iowa Wild in 2021-22 before getting his shot with the Wolves.
He has since become a mainstay in the lineup.
“You know what you’re getting from him every night,” Young said. “He surprises with some goals but the way he works, the way he forechecks and how he kills penalties are his strengths. This is a guy who came to camp on an invite and he’s one of our main players now.”
As for what the long-term future holds, Sucese is taking things one season at a time and will stick with the formula that has worked thus far.
“There’s always ups and down in your career,” he said. “You have to find your way and find a role with each team you’re on. I think I do a pretty good job of finding a role and seeing where I fit in the lineup and I try to grab onto that.”