by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Nate Prosser was out in a boat at his wife’s cabin on July 4 when he checked the sports news on his I-Phone. Suddenly he didn’t care if he caught any fish.
“Omigosh! Unbelievable news!” said the Minnesota Wild defenseman from Elk River about his two new teammates. “First, it said ‘Suter signs.’ And then, ‘Parise signs.’ One after the other. I had no idea. I’d just been following the story same as the fans.”
The Wild, who’ve missed playoffs four straight years, shook things up by signing forward Zach Parise, formerly of the New Jersey Devils, and defenseman Ryan Suter, formerly of the Nashville Predators.
Both are among the NHL’s top players at their positions and considered the two most-coveted free agents this year. Both 27, and friends since playing on a national team as teenagers, they signed for $98 million each over 13 years.
“That’s a crazy amount of money but they are two great players,” said Prosser. He added: “When was the last time any of the four Minnesota pro teams signed the top free agent available? And we got both.”
Prosser, 26, appeared in 51 games in his rookie season this past winter. The Wild had a great start, then tailed off badly and finished 35-36-11. With Parise, former Shattuck-St. Mary’s and North Dakota star, and Suter, a Wisconsin native and former Badger, on board, the Wild are suddenly a topic as hot as the weather.
Prosser said his only contact with Parise was some summer hockey at Augsburg two years ago.
“He’s a fantastic player and you saw what he did in the playoffs this year,” said Prosser, referring to New Jersey’s run to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Wild played Suter’s Nashville team twice.
“He is a mistake-free defenseman. You seldom if every see him turn over the puck. He plays in all situations,” noted Prosser. “It should definitely help the rest of us (defensemen) to learn from a guy like that.”
Parise mentioned good young players and prospects on the Wild as one of the reasons he signed, which Prosser appreciated.
“They’ve got to know that the organization is headed in the right direction,” said Prosser.
Amid that good news, there’s the troubling possibility of another labor lockout hanging over the NHL, even just seven years after the whole 2004-05 season was lost.
“That’s out of our control, but definitely in the backs of our minds,” Prosser said. “I hope they can avoid the same mistakes. I’m confident they can.”