They recruited each other, signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts with the Wild, and arrived as the most high-profile pair of free agents ever to sign simultaneously with a Minnesota professional sports team. Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are tied together forever.
That’s why they try to stay apart.
They rarely raise their voices in the Wild locker room, shunning the notion of leadership measured in decibels. They avoid long conversations together at the rink. Already elevated by status and salary, Parise and Suter want no part of real or perceived red velvet ropes.
“We don’t want the younger guys to think it’s us and then everybody else,” Suter said. “We don’t want the older guys to think that, either. So if we do need to talk, we try to do it when nobody else is around. We don’t want people thinking, ‘It’s all about them.’ We actually avoid each other at the rink.”
And away from it.
“I’ve got my family, he’s got his family,” Suter said. “We don’t really spend much time together.”
They’re apart even when displaying their common trait, professional diligence.
Both arrive early before practices. Parise is usually one of the first skaters to take the ice, where he’ll set up in front of a net and practice tipping shots. Suter heads for the back rooms, where he’ll conduct workouts that enable him to lead the NHL in ice time by a wide margin.
“Been doing that drill since high school,” Parise said. “You try to do things where you can separate from other people. That skill has paid off. It might be the difference in five goals a year.”
“I try to do the little things that can put you ahead,” Suter said. “Hey, there aren’t any nets free. Zach is always using one and the goalies have the other. So I try to do extra stuff off the ice.”
The men who have made the Wild championship contenders don’t possess blistering slapshots, or check opponents through the boards. Neither is likely to stickhandle from goal to goal. Both are average-sized humans who might go unnoticed at your neighborhood grocery store.
This summer, Parise played in the celebrity all-star softball game at Target Field. When he sat in the stands, he pulled a baseball cap low over his eyes and no one recognized him.
Together, if often apart, Parise and Suter have written the first chapter in a success story unique to their sport and locale. The most transformational free agents in Minnesota sports history embody two ethics that are often, in other cases, overstated: Midwestern values and hockey’s work ethic.
“When you sign a contract, a bigger contract like that, for me, I always put more pressure on myself,” Suter said. “You don’t want to let the team down. I feel like, someone gave me something, so I have to make sure I live up to that, to make that person feel like they didn’t waste their money on me.”
Have he and Parise talked about that? “We talk about keeping it simple,” Suter said. “Keep doing what we’ve been doing to get where we are.”
Before they arrived, the Wild hadn’t made the playoffs in four seasons, hadn’t won a playoff series since 2003 and was trying to rebuild a farm system left barren by the previous administration.
Parise and Suter helped Minnesota squeak into the playoffs two seasons ago and advance to the second round last year. Thursday, they’ll separately lead the most promising team in franchise history.
Suter’s hopes to win championships with Parise and to not hear about them from Parise.
“He’s a hockey nerd,” Suter said. “That’s why he’s had so much success. He thinks about nothing but hockey. I’m glad he has kids now. Before, I felt bad for him. He’d talk about hockey every second of the day. Now he’s becoming a human, where he can get away from the game.
“We’d be at dinner a few years ago, and he’d be like, ‘Remember that play …?’ and it would be from like three games ago. Now he talks about his kids, which is good.”
Parise’s rebuttal? “Hockey nerd?” he said, laughing. “Well, yeah, that’s true. I love thinking about the game. I love tinkering with my sticks. Hockey nerd? There are so many things I could say about him, but I don’t want to make him too mad. I’ll just say this: He can be antisocial.”
“I’m the opposite of a hockey nerd,” Suter said. “My wife gets mad at me, because I won’t talk about the game. Really, she’s fine with it, but that’s the rule: No hockey talk at home.”
As they’ve remade the franchise, Parise and Suter haven’t had much use for words.
Jim Souhan can be heard weekdays at noon and Sundays from 10 to noon on 1500 ESPN. Twitter: @SouhanStrib. firstname.lastname@example.org