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Clock ticking for Wild vets to realize Golden dreams

Suter, Parise will try to help Team USA to its first Gold Medal in best-on-best competition since 1996

by Evan Sporer / Special to Wild.com

TORONTO - Forward Zach Parise remembers being an 11-year-old, sitting in a dorm room at Shattuck-Saint Mary's watching the 1996 World Cup of Hockey.

"It was cool because we had a group of Canadians that were there, and a group of Americans that were there," Parise said Thursday at Air Canada Centre.

Ryan Suter, about six months younger than Parise, likewise doesn't have a crystal memory, but knows he was watching. 

"I'm sure I watched it," he said, sitting a stick's length away from Parise at World Cup media day. "I don't really remember it. With my uncle being on the team I'm sure I knew exactly what happened when I was that age."

What the two came to realize though as time passed and they got older was the enormity of what happened.

Now Minnesota Wild teammates, and mainstays of the United States Hockey program from the junior ranks all the way up through the senior team, the products of the Midwest and longtime friends were raised on American hockey.

Suter's uncle, Gary, was on the 1996 World Cup team, and more famously his father, Bob, the 1980 Miracle on Ice team.

Parise's father, J.P., though of Canadian nationality, raised his family in the United States, and coached at Shattuck, a powerhouse program in this country.

What 1996 signified, and part of what makes the 2016 reboot of the World Cup of Hockey so special, is it was the last time the United States captured gold in a best-on-best international tournament.

"Looking back now, and now being a part of it, you understand how big it is," Parise said.

The Americans came painfully close to a first-place finish in 2010 Olympics in Vancouver with Parise and Suter at the forefront. After defeating rival Canada in the group stages, the host country returned the favor in the gold medal game.

Not yet members of the Wild, Parise and Suter had their fingerprints all over that game: It was Parise who scored the game-tying goal with 25 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime.

Suter was on the ice when Sidney Crosby scored the gold-medal clinching goal in overtime. Though he said he prefers not to replay that shift, he can recall that he checked Jarome Iginla along the side wall, just as he passed the puck across to Crosby, who beat Suter's defensive partner Brian Rafalski and sealed the game.

He remembers childhood friend Phil Kessel hitting the post in overtime just prior to the Canadians winning. The details for Parise and Suter and clear, and they fuel the motivation.

"You get older, and you don't know how many more cracks you're going to get at it," Suter said. "You have to make sure that you put everything into it. As you get older in your career - when you're younger, you take a lot of things for granted.

"As you get older, everybody starts to talk about the time ticking away. You have to start really bearing down and being ready to go."

It's not just Parise and Suter who are paying attention to the clock. There are 10 skaters on this United States team 30 years of age or older, six of whom were with Team USA in 2010 in Vancouver.

In all, there are nine holdovers from that 2010 roster that nearly ended the United States' senior team best-on-best drought.

So the United States' mantra, according to Head Coach John Tortorella, is that 'it's time.'

"The two words we've talked about, we've called it, is, 'It's time,'" Tortorella said. "It's not so much looking to the past, or looking to the future; it's about right now.

"We feel we have an opportunity to represent the USA."

But history does not escape this group of Americans. They know how close they came in 2010. United States management sent Game 3 of the 1996 World Cup to every player on this roster.

They want to live in the present, but certainly understand the significance of who came before them.

"Just even being a part of these exhibition games, and getting a feel for the pace, and the quality of players, you start to really appreciate kind of what those guys went through, and what it took to ultimately win the whole thing is pretty incredible," James van Riesmdyk said. "It's going to be a huge challenge, and to get to that same level would be a huge accomplishment."

There's a balance to be had, of acknowledging the programs missteps over the past two decades while not overcompensating for its lack of a gold medal.

"For me personally just kind of being through the whole 2010 Olympics and 2014 and coming up short there, we know that, 'Hey, it's time right now to get the job done,'" Patrick Kane said.

The clock could soon run out on this generation of American hockey players, who know the 2016 World Cup is another opportunity, and perhaps one of its last, to put a bow on its hockey legacy.

"It's always special, and you always want to take advantage," Parise said. "When you're younger, you play in them, and you look forward to the next one.

"Time has kind of run out, so who knows what's going to be ahead the next few years. You really want to enjoy this one while I'm here, and hopefully our team can do well, and have a good time with it."

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