Minnesota is the land of 10,000 lakes. Each year when the water turns to ice, it becomes the land of 10,000 hockey rinks. For players, this is where the passion for hockey begins. Whether they barely make it past squirts or create a lifelong NHL career, Minnesota will forever claim these hockey players as its own.
So when a young kid from Faribault, Minn., plays AAA hockey all the way through elementary school and junior high, then high school at perennial power, hockey machine Shattuck-St. Mary’s, everyone expects this kid to play college hockey for the University of Minnesota.
Imagine the surprise when one of them doesn’t. Especially when that guy is Zach Parise.
Parise was an immediate standout at Shattuck. He played on the U.S. National team at the Under-18 and junior levels, and was recruited by colleges across the Midwest.
Eventually, Parise reached NHL glory, and this year marked his first season with the Minnesota Wild. However, not before committing to the University of Minnesota’s most fiercely-hated rival, the University of North Dakota, where he played two years of college hockey.
I expected Minnesotans to feel bitter about his choice to leave, but from what I gathered, they weren’t. They weren’t rooting for North Dakota to win, but they certainly weren’t wishing for Parise to fail.
Honestly, I’m not a Wild fan. I’m not from Minnesota; I’m a North Dakota fan, and I don’t like the Gophers. But, I would get it if Parise supporters were angry that he left. It was a slap in the face to the city he was born in and ultimately he used their archrival as a stepping stone to NHL glory, something offensive to Minnesotans.
The Minnesota-North Dakota rivalry is one of the biggest rivalries in college hockey, if not in all of college sports. It’s the type of rivalry where you have to pick one side or the other. Once you’re labeled a supporter of North Dakota men’s hockey or the Gophers, there’s no going back. These are two teams whose fans and players really don’t like each other.
As an outsider to Minnesota sports, it appears hypocritical for Parise to be adored by Minnesotans, especially when they’re fans of both the Wild and the Gophers. Players like Kyle Okposo and Blake Wheeler were born and raised in Minnesota, play in the NHL and chose not to abandon their home state when playing hockey at the collegiate level. In my opinion, if anyone deserves to be adored, it’s them.
Fans have the freedom to support whomever they choose. I’m not saying Minnesotans should hate Zach Parise because he spent few years in Grand Forks, N.D. I mean, he did come back, but is that all it takes to redeem himself for leaving? After all, a nearly $100 million contract is probably enough to persuade just about anyone to go anywhere. I think Parise’s decision to come back had far less to do with a sense of loyalty to his original fan base than the check waiting for him on the table.
In an era where player loyalty can change quickly and contract details are easily accessible, I find it hard to trust any athlete’s intentions so quickly. I admire Zach Parise, and he’s a phenomenal hockey player, but he isn’t playing pond hockey anymore. He’s not playing for Shattuck or even North Dakota, he’s playing in the NHL. Professional hockey is a business, above all else. I’m not convinced he’s earned his place in the hearts of Wild fans yet; I just hope he doesn’t end up breaking them.
Jacob Sevening can be reached at email@example.com.