Minnesota Wildâ€™s Jason Zucker, right, looks for the puck after Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, left, stopped a shot in the third period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. The Blackhawks won 4-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Minnesota Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom, left, of Finland, gives up a power-play goal to Chicago Blackhawksâ€™ Patrick Kane, right, in the first period of an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015, in St. Paul, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Zach Parise and Ryan Suter signed together with the Minnesota Wild for identical mega contracts, a pair of in-their-prime stars targeting an up-and-coming team to grow with and a familiar place to put down roots.
There was another, unrealized benefit that came from their decision, too, saddening circumstances made just a little bit brighter by the simple proximity of playing in the closest NHL market to their home. Suter's father, Bob, died Sept. 9 of a heart attack. Parise's dad, J.P., passed away Wednesday after a long bout with lung cancer.
When Parise returned to practice Friday with the Wild, the disguised blessing of picking the team in the area where he grew up and his parents lived was still on his mind despite the presence of raw grief.
"As hard as it has been the last year, seeing what he's had to go through, if we weren't here to be with him and support him it would've been a nightmare," Parise said. "We did get to spend a lot of great time with him, so those are the things that you'll always remember."
With his father's health fast deteriorating, Parise and Suter spoke in recent weeks about the silver lining of their situations.
"At least the good thing is we got to be here," Suter said. "Just think if we would have signed other places, they wouldn't have got to come to as many games as they did get a chance to come to."
The 13-year, $98 million deals the Wild gave Parise and Suter on July 4, 2012, were too big to pass up, but so was the opportunity to settle in.
J.P. Parise played most of his NHL career for the Minnesota North Stars and stayed in the Twin Cities area after his playing days were done. Bob Suter, a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, was a fixture in the Madison, Wisconsin, area where Ryan was raised. Suter's wife grew up in the Twin Cities area, about a four-hour drive from Madison.
Parise was playing for New Jersey previously and Suter for Nashville. When they became free agents, Minnesota became the place they were supposed to be.
"It was special for him here," Parise said of his dad, "and that had to be the reason why they stuck around."
Parise spoke slowly and softly but calmly as he answered questions from reporters for the first time since he left the team earlier this week to be with his father for his final days. He missed two games. Parise expressed gratitude for the outpouring of support from all corners of the sport. His wife, he said, was the one who urged him to rejoin the team Friday to "get back in the groove of things" and not "sit at home and sulk."
Parise then joked, "My dad probably would've been mad at me for skipping the San Jose game and he probably would've been mad at me for not playing last night too, so it was important for me to get back."
During the past week, Suter was especially helpful for Parise.
"He'd say, 'Stay home from practice. Spend time with him. Spend as much time with him as you can,'" Parise said. "Things like that. The whole team was incredible. Just with him having gone through it as well, he was very supportive, calling all the time when he knew it was the last couple of days. ... It meant a lot to us."
Parise said he plans to play Saturday against Nashville as well as on the upcoming three-game road trip. The funeral will be next Friday, Jan. 16.
"Even though his heart and his mind is obviously on dealing with this terrible thing, I know that he will pour his heart and soul into helping our hockey team," coach Mike Yeo said. "That's just the kind of character he is."
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