They’ll forever be linked in Wild folklore because of the way they signed together.
But during the most painful season of each of their careers, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter shared a common bond that made them even closer and thankful they had each other to lean on.
“It’s kind of eerie a little bit,” Parise said. “We’ve had a lot of parallels, even before this playing in international tournaments and growing up playing against each other. A lot of parallels, so it’s ironic how everything happened.
“Can’t explain it, but that’s just the way it happened.”
How do you explain such cruel irony, really?
The Wild’s two biggest stars, the two guys who erupted so many Minnesota fireworks when they signed as a July 4, 2012, tag-team in large part so they could be closer to their families, and one loses his father a few days before training camp, the other loses his father four months later.
Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 U.S. gold medal-winning Olympic team, died of a heart attack Sept. 9 at Capitol Ice Arena in Middleton, Wis., the rink he owned with sons Ryan and Garrett.
J.P. Parise, the beloved former North Star, died Jan. 7 after a yearlong battle with lung cancer.
“From when my dad passed away, it was so sudden and quick and unexpected,” Suter said. “Zach was the first guy who called me, the first guy that I actually talked to, really. Him and his wife were there for us. He’s a good friend, and that’s what good friends do.”
It’s been a season of strain and heartache, but Suter and Parise, both 30, strived through and are excited for the playoffs to begin Thursday against the St. Louis Blues.
Both admit, though, that there were junctures of this season that were excruciating.
“It’s been a long year,” Suter said. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs and a lot of days where you’re wondering, you’re second-guessing yourself and thinking, ‘What the heck am I doing this for?’
“Negative thoughts go into your mind, like, ‘Should I be here or should I be home with my family? Should I be helping my brother?’ My brother’s running our business back home and it’s a lot of pressure on him. He has to relive that moment with my dad. Every day, he has to go to work and it happened at the rink there.”
Suter said the guilt was never-ending.
“But he gets it,” Suter said of Garrett, 27. “He’s our biggest fan and wants us to go far, but earlier in the year, he was having a hard time.”
Parise, who watched his dad deteriorate after J.P. chose to stop chemotherapy, experienced similar feelings.
“There were times throughout the season just mentally, I just wasn’t there,” Parise said. “Physically I was there, but mentally, hockey wasn’t on my mind. I don’t like saying that. But that was the reality with what our family was going through.
“I’m sure Ryan was the same. Things were more important and things are more important. Those few months, it was difficult coming here, it was difficult traveling, being alone on the road. There were a lot of tough times.”
What made it tougher, Suter said, was the constant losing in December and January.
“Man, when we were losing, it was really, really tough,” he said. “Like, you want to come to the rink and have it be the happy place, not another sad place. Just a long year. I’m so happy we are where we are now.”
Fourteen months ago, when Zach found out his dad had terminal cancer, Suter was the first person Parise told. Suter arranged for Zach’s dad to go on his own personal father-son trip.
Five months later, Zach was at Bob Suter’s funeral. He thought about everything Ryan had done for him and how he may be experiencing this very same thing soon.
In hindsight, Parise said what made this season “special” was having Suter there to share it with. It was a friend “that had gone through it and could understand the feelings that you’re dealing with on a daily basis, and having to play through it as well.”
It wasn’t easy for Zach after his dad died. But once he stopped having to watch his father suffer, “it was a load off the shoulders. My head was clear. I could feel better coming to the rink, and it translated on the ice.”
Since mid-January, Parise and Suter have been two of the Wild’s best players. Parise scored 19 goals in the past 39 games, and Suter’s nightly string of minuses have turned into pluses.
“There was a time there where I was pretty down,” Suter said. “I couldn’t stop a puck from going behind me and into the net. Now, I feel good, I feel confident, I feel I’m moving well and hopefully it continues.”
Parise and Suter say expectations have risen in Minnesota. Making the playoffs is required and no longer considered an accomplishment.
“When you’re an unrestricted free agent, you have the choice of where to go,” Suter said. “So when you pick that place, you have to make the playoffs, I think, to make it a success. We made it these three years, but for us now, I think we’re to the next step. We’ve made it. Now it’s a chance to try to go far and see what we really have.
“The way we’ve been playing, we have the capabilities to make it far. It was a long year and hopefully we can do something special here and make it all worth it.”