As Zach Parise walked out of Mariucci Arena on Tuesday with a case of bottled water, Darryl Sydor didn’t miss a beat, telling the Wild’s leading goal scorer that a 24-pack is “only $3 at Target.”
“Things are tough at home,” Parise said, laughing.
Sydor was back in his element Tuesday. Not only was he blowing drills down in practice and giving one-on-one instruction, the Wild assistant coach also was cracking the type of jokes players and personnel have grown accustomed to hearing from the 43-year-old former defenseman the past four years.
Sydor, who pleaded guilty to drunken driving last month, is back with the Wild for the first time since his Aug. 20 arrest in Fridley.
“It felt good,” Sydor said after his first day on the ice Tuesday. “It’s what I do, it’s what I’ve done. But being away gave me time to really look at a lot of things. And the one thing is my family is excited for me to be back, and that’s what makes it a lot easier for myself is just the support of my family.”
Sydor, who met last week with coach Mike Yeo to formulate a plan, will ease back into his regular duties. Initially, he won’t be behind the bench during games or travel to road games. Yeo said there’s no timeline as to when that will start (Sydor has one more weekend to serve in the Anoka County workhouse), but it will come soon enough and “this was the first step” as the Wild tries to make Sydor’s transition back as easy as possible.
“I’m very confident that he’s in the right place and this is the right time to bring him back,” Yeo said.
Sydor said he “hit rock bottom” when he was pulled over while driving one of his four children to a hockey game. He has since attended inpatient treatment in California and plans ongoing treatment in Minnesota.
His eyes welled throughout his first public comments Tuesday. He said he isn’t discounting the “huge mistake” he made but is determined not to let it define him.
“Recovery is going to define who I am,” Sydor said. “I’ve been battling this for some time. I was sober last year for over 400 days. But I was sober. I wasn’t in recovery.”
Sydor said his mission now is to help others with the disease.
“They talk about Alcoholics Anonymous, but there’s no need to be anonymous about it,” he said. “It’s amazing the amount of people that I’ve came across now that are maybe quiet about it, don’t talk about it, which leads to tough situations. So the biggest thing is to reach out and talk and ask for a helping hand.”
As part of his plea agreement for second-degree driving while impaired, Sydor was sentenced to 60 days in jail. The remaining 45 days are staggered the next three Octobers. If Sydor can establish each year that he has maintained sobriety and has been in a good recovery program (there’s a long list of probation obligations), a judge can waive the next executed jail term.
“Darryl is working hard and making great progress,” his attorney, Ryan Pacyga, said.
It would have been easy for the Wild to dismiss Sydor. But Yeo voiced loyalty from the outset: “I know who he is as a person. … I’ve been around him for a long time, and he made a huge mistake. He’s definitely owned up to that. He’s not just trying to throw it away and brush it off.”
It’s been a humbling two months for Sydor, but the past month since returning from California has given him cherished time with his wife and children.
“It’s been really good to be able to just have a good rapport again up with the kids, getting them to school and just laying with them at night, reading them stories,” Sydor said, his voice cracking. “We were able to rescue a dog last week, so we’ve got a new puppy in the family.
“My 6-year-old said [Tuesday], ‘Dad, where are you going?’ I said, ‘I’m going to work.’ He goes, ‘Where are you going to work?’ I said, ‘I’m going back to the Wild.’ He said, ‘I knew you’d go back to the Wild.’
“It just brings smiles. I’m a different person now, and those things are exciting.”