MINOCQUA - The phrases "professional athlete" and "natural talent" usually go hand-in-hand.
But Jake Suter, who competed overseas and whose dad played in the NHL, didn't always stand out as a kid.
"He wasn't the fastest skater, but he always worked hard and that's what I tried to instill in him," said Gary Suter, Jake's father.
Now Jake is trying to bring that same work ethic to the Lakeland Boys' hockey team.
"Our team is going to embody what this community really is and what the Northwoods really is: hard-working, blue-collar people," Jake Suter said.
When Suter speaks about what the Northwoods really is, he speaks from experience, having grown up 25 minutes from Minocqua in Lac du Flambeau.
"This community and this rink and the people around here mean so much to me," Jake Suter said. "I want every kid to have the opportunity that I had."
So far, those kids are gravitating toward their new head coaches' mentality.
"If we don't have the best skill, you may as well have the best fit on the ice so you can constantly keep going all the way to the third period and then you can take games in the end," Lakeland Union senior Connor Nicklaus said.
The only thing more important to Suter and his coaching staff than building a persistent team on the ice is building character off of it.
"For the majority of these kids, they're going to play their four years of high school hockey and then they're going to have to go on and be a successful adult," said assistant coach Gary Olson.
Part of that transition is embracing the menial work.
"They saw my dad mowing the grass at the rink the other day so they might think he's the groundskeeper here," Jake Suter said.
Lakeland's team only thinks of Jake as one thing, though: Coach.
"He's just a good overall man," Nicklaus said.
Lakeland Union's summer season runs through Aug. 5. The Thunderbirds finished 7-6 last year in fourth place out of seven teams in the Great Northern Conference.