When, not if, C.J. Suess tallies three more points this season, he will join Minnesota State’s top 10 scorers since the school joined Division I in 1996. A fruitful beginning to 2018 could leave him near the Top 5; current NHLer David Backes sits at No. 6 with 119 points, just 13 ahead of Suess’ current 106. His spot among the program’s best players will be a fitting end to a brilliant career from Suess, who’s been a team captain since the beginning of 2016 and the offensive catalyst for just as long.
No matter where he ends up, Suess’ record book entry will read “C.J. Suess, 2014-18”, rather than C.J. Franklin, his name when he began his time with the Mavericks in 2014.
This past summer, Suess changed his last name, a move he said was his way of paying tribute to his mother, Cheryl, a person who has played a significant role in who he is as a person today, as well as his grandmother.
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“That side of my family, my mom and my step-dad, they’ve been a big part of my life, and I thought that would be the right thing to do,” Suess said. “So I just went for it.”
He didn’t hold a big party for the decision, or film his mother’s reaction for a social media post. He simply did it — went to court, filled out papers, endured the months-long process, which is only now ending as he waits on his passport change. Yet the unceremonious nature of such a big life change is unsurprising to anyone who knows him.
According to his head coach, Mike Hastings, Suess’ style is one of show, don’t tell.
“He’s one of those guys who lets a lot of his actions speak for him,” Hastings said.
ICYWW | Senior captain @CSuess15 is on the verge of entering the top ten of Minnesota State's career scoring list. @WCHA_MHockey @collegehockey @Buccigross @NHLJets pic.twitter.com/LgIQs5m48X— MinnStateMHockey (@MavHockey) December 16, 2017
What Hastings has seen in Suess this year is a person even more confident than when last season ended. His numbers are up across the board, his points per game (1.22) above the 1.00 mark for the first time in his career and his shooting percentage (.235) nearly 10 percent better than any of his first three seasons.
He says he isn’t doing anything drastically different, no magic drills he learned in the offseason or revamped skating techniques.
“I think I’m just shooting the puck a lot more, getting to the net more,” Suess said. “I’m just getting in the center of the ice, getting four or five shots each night, and my line mates and teammates do a really good job of getting helping me out. It’s all working out.”
All of which sounds like a player confident in their skin, and in their skills.
And Suess has skills in spades. Hastings loves having Suess on his team because he can roll him out in any scenario — man-up, man-down, even strength, you name it.
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“He’s rounded out his game,” Hastings said. “There isn’t a situation where he isn’t at the forefront of my mind to call on. You combine that with his leadership skills, as far as an example-setter, and I think he’s about as well-rounded a player as we have on our roster.”
Earlier this season, after Minnesota State dropped back-to-back games against Bowling Green and Minnesota Duluth, Hastings noticed a shift in Suess’ demeanor. The team had 13 days off before its next game, and Suess put his head down and worked — in the weight room, in the classroom, on the ice — for all 13 days.
When the Mavericks took the ice against Lake Superior State and Alabama Huntsville for four games after the break, they ripped off a four-game win streak, out-scoring their opponents 20-2. Suess recorded six points, including a pair of two-goal games.
ICYMI | C.J. Suess tallied his 100th career point on November 17 against Bowling Green pic.twitter.com/30eZti0epK— MaverickHockeyWknd (@MaverickHW) November 30, 2017
“He really set the bar on what we needed to get accomplished over those days off,” Hastings said.
Suess didn’t make a big speech. He set the wheels in motion for what could be a season-shifting win streak just by being himself and doing what he knew what he wanted to do, and what he knew he needed to do.
“I’m not the person who’s a big rah-rah guy,” he said. “I’d rather lead by example.”
He’s a man of few words and many points. And his name is C.J. Suess.