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The Path Traveled For Parise And Suter Runs Familiar

by Evan Sporer / Minnesota Wild

After a while, Zach Parise said, the symmetry almost begins to get eerie.

"There's a lot of similarities," Parise said. "Growing up, there was a lot of similarities between him and I, and the hockey parts of our family."

Products of the Midwest, of hockey families that were pillars of their communities, Parise and Ryan Suter have been going down congruous paths since their adolescence.

"That's the way it is, and here we are now, and on the same team, and we'll be on the same team for a long time, and getting to share a lot of things together," Parise said.

Suter and Parise spent their formative years approximately 300 miles away from each other. Circumstance and their artistry for their craft continued to draw them closer, until, in the summer of 2012, Parise and Suter signed identical 13-year contracts.

"Before we got here, we had played against each other, we had played on different teams together, and we knew each other, but not like we do now," Suter said. "Since we've gotten here, we've become very close."

Their paths continue to intertwine, and now, as Minnesota Wild teammates, as second-generation hockey talents who came back home to buoy their hometown franchise to new heights, it would be inconvenient not to draw parallels.

Sunday will bring a new experience for the duo to share, when the Wild and Blackhawks play in the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series.

And yes, there will be a locker room full of Wild teammates sharing the experience with Parise and Suter. But the bond they share, which spans generations and continents, runs much deeper.

"To be able to do this together — we did the Olympics together, both Olympics — and now to have a chance to do this, it will be a lot of fun," Suter said. "It's something I'm sure our families will cherish for a long time."

By Lakes And Ponds

In the Highland Place community in Bloomington Minnesota, Parise and older brother Jordan got their first tastes of hockey.

"My brother and I were probably the youngest kids there by 30 years, and I'm sure everyone in the community hated us," Parise said. "We were always just running around, always skating, always jumping in the pool, and making noise. I don't think the other people appreciated it very much."

There was also a pond in the community; one that, when it was cold enough, their dad J.P. would prep and treat so Zach and Jordan could skate.

"My dad would shovel it off, and I remember he would always go down early in the winter with an axe, chopping into the ice, making sure it was thick enough for us to skate," Parise said. "Then he would shovel it, he would hose it, and that's where we'd play all the time."

With a father serving as an assistant of the Minnesota North Stars, J.P.'s sons were predisposed when it came to choosing a favorite team. Yet when Zach and Jordan took to the pond, it was Zach in a Doug Gilmour jersey, and brother Jordan in a Felix Potvin jersey.

"But most of the time it was too cold to be wearing jerseys," Parise said. "We would be trying to just stay warm."

The technological innovations available today — sponsored by the budget of an NHL franchise — weren't privy for Parise on those frigid days on the pond.

"I remember my ears getting frost-bit before, or you'd be skating, and my toes would be so cold I remember going home and just sitting right in front of the vent with my feet right next to the vent, with the heat on my feet trying to thaw them out," Parise said. "But it was great, and it was fun."

Just outside of Madison, Wisconsin sits Lake Waubesa, with a surface area of over 2,000 acres, or a frozen field of dreams for the Suter boys and their neighborhood running mates.

"You'd get home from school, go out and shovel, and get out and skate," Suter said. "I was always the brother that was in charge of making sure the rink was shoveled off, and making sure the nets were on, and everything was good, and ready to go. We had some battles, and a lot of fun, and that's a fun time for sure."

Without a hometown team per say, Suter's allegiance, much like Parise, was swayed by blood.

"I was always a fan of whoever my uncle played for," Suter said, referring to Gary Suter. "There was Calgary, Chicago, San Jose, so it was basically following him around."

Gary's career, which spanned 16 years and three NHL franchises, also meant wardrobe changes for Ryan.

"I would always wear the Flames jersey of my uncle, and then when he went to Chicago, I put that on," Suter said. "I never had a San Jose one, but the other ones, I would always wear those around."

The jerseys bore a name, but Parise and Suter's minds fantasized about eventual professional careers, in the roles of then-professional idols.

"I always wanted to be (Mike) Modano," Parise said. "A lot of kids growing up at that time kind of shared that. Nine was always a tough number to get on all the teams, but he was the guy I always liked watching.

"I remember him and (Neal) Broten, my dad was always saying, 'Watch those two guys,' and just watch what they do."

Though dreams and passion can be born on outdoor rinks, as the hockey gets more serious, those opportunities come few and far between.

When Parise arrived at the campus of Shattuck-Saint Mary's, J.P. was running the hockey program. In addition to handing son Parise the keys to the team — Parise scored 146 goals and had 340 points in two seasons, punctuated by national championship — J.P. literally handed his son the keys to the rink.

"We were pretty spoiled when we went down to Shattuck because my dad ran the hockey program," Parise said. "I had the master key to the rink, and I knew how to drive the Zamboni, so we could go there and skate whenever we wanted. We didn’t really have the need to skate outdoors anymore."

The reality is, as much as many assume the likes of an outdoor NHL game can trigger childhood memories of hockey from a simpler time, this is a different animal.

"It's outside, but you're in front of however many thousands of people, and you're on an ice rink, with Zambonis," said Suter, proficient himself in the practice of the personal ice-cleaner. "My son goes out in our backyard and skates on the pond by himself, and the imagination he has, he pretends he's playing in this outdoor game. That's cool."

A Long Time Coming

The first time Parise and Suter played together on the same team was in 2002 at the Under-18 World Championships in Piestany, Slovakia. A year later, Parise and Suter were again United States teammates at the 2003 IIHF World Championship in Nova Scotia.

Suter was following in uncle Gary's footsteps, a member of the 1984 United States World Junior team. Most notably, Suter's father Bob won gold at Lake Placid in 1980 in one of the most iconic sports moments ever.

J.P. made a home in Minnesota after he retired from hockey, but an Ontario native, he represented Canada in the Summit Series in 1972.

Their sons would continue to play on the international stage, United States teammates in Vancouver in 2010, and Sochi in 2014. It's likely they'll each be present in Toronto for the 2016 World Cup of Hockey, countrymen and teammates.

How they each got to this point, and specifically where and what they came from, makes Suter and Parise the quintessential forefathers for the first ever NHL-sanctioned outdoor game in Minnesota.

"I've said it before: it's kind of long overdue here, just with the history, and it being such a big part of the culture," Parise said. "Of course it's going to be special for all the players to play in it. There are a handful of guys that are from here, and for those guys, it will be a little extra special because we did grow up out here, playing outdoors, and that's how we learned how to play the game."

They'll have a family skate to bask in the elements, and possibly reminisce on those days on lakes and ponds, and even that calls to the symmetry of their stories.

"I was talking to my mom about how cool it would have been if dad and I would have been able to go on the ice, him in his jersey, me in my jersey," Parise said. "It would have been pretty special."

His mother, Donna, will be one of three widows to take part in a ceremonial puck drop prior to the Alumni Game on Saturday.

And then on Sunday, her son, Zach, and his teammate, Ryan, will share in yet another moment in their hockey careers.

"Hopefully there's many more to come, too," Suter said.

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