The Wild's father-son trip is a joyous affair, a time where dads who treasured their boys' hockey accolades throughout their childhood can experience what life is like on the road for their now-grown-up, professional boys.
The dads fly on the team's all-first-class seat airplane and share rooms at luxury hotels. They eat at team meals, attend team meetings and overall get a behind-the-scenes taste of what an NHL road trip is like.
The Wild will hold its father-son trip this weekend when the team's three-game road trip hits Florida for two games in three nights against the Lightning and Panthers.
Players have been looking forward to it since being informed in the summertime, but unfortunately, it will provide an empty feeling for the team's two biggest names.
Zach Parise's dad, J.P., can't go because he's in the advanced stage of lung cancer, and Ryan Suter's dad, Bob, died at the age of 57 in September, a week before training camp.
"It's going to be hard," Suter said. "It was something he had looked forward to. We had talked about it. We went to Florida in the middle of August on vacation, and we talked a lot about this trip."
Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 U.S. men's Olympic team that won the gold medal in Lake Placid, had been on four or five father-son trips when Ryan played for the Nashville Predators. It was a special trip for both, which is why when coach Mike Yeo offered in September to cancel this trip out of respect for his No. 1 defenseman, Suter wouldn't allow it.
Ryan didn't want his teammates, especially the younger ones, to miss out on the chance of sharing such an incredible experience with their dads.
There will be a welcome reception with owner Craig Leipold in Tampa and a team dinner in Fort Lauderdale. The 34 guests of players, coaches and staff members will receive gift bags and white jerseys to wear in suites at the two games.
"We would have so many stories in the summertime after these trips," Suter said, laughing. "My dad would wear his work boots to the team meals and everyone was just like, 'Who is this guy?' He would drink his soup out of the bowl to finish it and everybody would just be staring.
"He just did these funny little things that a guy from east-side Madison would do. He wasn't used to the nice hotels and things like that."
Years ago, when Wild defenseman Nick Schultz's father, Robert, died days before the season, the Wild allowed Schultz to bring his brother, Kris, on the father-son trip. Similarly, Suter will get to share this trip with his brother, Garrett, and in fact the Wild is letting other players and staff members bring brothers or mentors, too.
"I'll hang out with Ryan and his brother," Parise said. "I wish my dad can be there. It's sad. And I'm sure I'll be sad when I get down there and everyone's got their dads with them, but I can spend time with Ryan."
J.P. Parise, 72, the beloved former North Star, has been struggling with the effects of chemotherapy. Zach's biggest fan hasn't been able to attend a home game yet and recently spent a month in a hospital.
J.P. not being able to attend the trip makes Zach even more appreciative that General Manager Chuck Fletcher allowed J.P. to have his own personal father-son trip last spring to Arizona, Los Angeles and Chicago. Suter, knowing J.P. and Zach Parise never got to do a father-son trip during Zach's long New Jersey Devils tenure, is the one who actually went to Fletcher and asked if J.P. could come on a trip once Zach found out his dad was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer.
The Wild went 2-0-1 on that trip and Parise scored two goals at Phoenix, including his 239th to pass his father's career goal total, with pops in the stands. Afterward, the two took a cheerful picture from the bench.
Suter is heartbroken for the Parises.
"It's so sad," Suter said. "This world is so scary, like the kid [Patrick Schoonover] who died a few days ago. I feel so badly for his family. Every day, it seems like something different pops up. Zach's dealing with it well, and we're there for him.
"I was lucky in training camp, we share a suite and we were picking it out and I got to sit with J.P. for 20 or 30 minutes in one of the suites. He was telling me all these great stories about when they played. I really look up to him. J.P., he's a pretty cool guy to sit around and have a beer or glass of wine with. It's just too bad this stuff happens to good people."