RALEIGH, N.C. – When Wild star Zach Parise goes into the corner against blossoming Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Justin Faulk, the mutual respect for one another is off the charts.
The two share a bond that only they could appreciate “even though Zach probably had no idea who I was before last summer,” Faulk said, laughing.
Parise, 29, and Faulk, 21, worked out together daily at St. Thomas Academy, pushing each other through exhaustive workouts both on the ice and in the gym. It wasn’t like going down to your local Life Time Fitness with your workout buddy and trying to one-up each other on the treadmill.
Their no-nonsense trainer was Erik Rasmussen, the former Gophers forward and Parise’s former teammate on the New Jersey Devils. Asked the stuff Rasmussen put them through, Parise just chuckled.
“You better ask him. Really intense, really outside the box stuff … but it’s awesome,” Parise said as his team headed into Saturday night’s game against Faulk’s Hurricanes.
Rasmussen calls the workouts “Probably the hardest thing you’ve ever done. It is for very dedicated athletes who continually want to improve. Zach is not satisfied with being where he was the year before or two months ago or yesterday.
“He wants to get better every day in his fitness and in his game. Justin has the same attitude and desire, and our workout continually pushes the athlete to maximal effort.”
Rasmussen works for the Minnesota Advancement Program, which is the elite division within FHIT Hockey (Flexible Hours Institute of Training). Faulk, the South St. Paul native who won a national championship at Minnesota Duluth with Wild forward Justin Fontaine, has worked with Rasmussen for years.
Parise joined this past summer and together they worked with 37-year-old New Jersey Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador, a Lakeville resident.
“It’s a lot about focusing on form, focusing on correct, precise movements and depending on which athlete you have determines how far you can take it,” Rasmussen said. “We do zero of what you think of as cardio — no bike riding, sprinting or running. We do none of it.
“You have to see it to believe it. The focal point is to train everyday like you’re playing a game. Every day we train, it should be harder than your game is.”
Rasmussen adds matter-of-factly: “It’s miserable. You’re pretty humbled every day. You fail every day in what we do. You rarely succeed in our weight room. You rarely beat the workout. It takes a certain individual and mind-set to get through it.
“Justin and Zach have that. Zach always goofs around me, you have to be a grinder like I was to do these workouts. I always tell Zach, ‘Well, you’re a grinder with first-line skills.’ ”
Faulk says Parise is the toughest-to-handle forward he has faced, saying Parise’s work ethic and skill is a tough combo to conquer.
“When you see a guy like that, as good of a player as he is, working that hard, it’s kind of hard to look at yourself and be like, ‘Oh, I’m working hard enough,’ ” Faulk said. “When we skate in the summer, you see the tempo pick up when he comes out. College kids will start going harder because they see how he works. He’s a leader even when he doesn’t have any idea who guys are. They know who he is.”
Faulk is developing into a upper-echelon defenseman for the Hurricanes. He’s on their top pair with veteran Andrej Sekera and leads Carolina in average ice time per game (23 minutes, 51 seconds).
Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller knew very little about Faulk, a second-round pick in 2010, before he arrived last season.
“He’s not a bring-you-out-of-your-seat kind of player, but if you really just watch him, he just does a lot of things right,” Muller said. “Our first impression when I got here was, ‘Holy geez, this kid at his age knows how to play the game the right way,’ and then you knew he’s just going to grow into it. He’s one of those real pros. He’s here early, he’s wants to play, he asks questions, so you knew right away he was going to be get better.”
Faulk is such an up-and-comer, he is on the radar to represent the United States at the Winter Olympics. Some surmise he could be paired with the Wild’s Ryan Suter in Sochi.
“I think he’s got a really good chance,” Parise said. “I think if he weren’t in a smaller market like Carolina, we’d hear a lot more about him. I think he’s going to be a star defenseman in this league.”