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Column: Parise decides it's time to come home

Zach Parise narrowed his choice down between two teams.

He thought it out, sought advice from family and friends and rocked the hockey world with his decision.

The Minneapolis native picked University of North Dakota over his hometown University of Minnesota Gophers.

The big decision, which came a little more than a decade ago, was a blow to most of the hometown hockey fans and came as a surprise to many. Parise explained that he felt UND best provided him the chance to someday be an NHL great.

The winger eventually became that star and faced another difficult, future-shaping decision this week.

Again, he narrowed his choice between two teams. Again, he sought advice from friends and family and again had the hockey world abuzz with his decision.

This time, he sent the Twin Cities into euphoria.

Parise signed a 13-year contract with the Minnesota Wild worth $98 million on Wednesday and perhaps became the most significant free-agent signing ever for a Minnesota sports team.

It is the second-largest free-agent deal in NHL history, the fourth-largest overall deal in NHL history. And it surpassed the previous richest contract ever signed by an American hockey player by more than $30 million.

Never before has a Minnesota pro team been able to lure a superstar away from somewhere else in his prime quite like this.

Yes, Minnesota teams have signed all-stars. They've landed athletes such as Brett Favre, Dave Winfield, Paul Molitor, Jack Morris and Terry Steinbach. But they were all in the twilights of their careers - 35 years of age or older.

The Wolves landed Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell, but they were only in the Twin Cities for two years. Sprewell then left the league.

Cassell was 36.

The Vikings landed Antoine Winfield, but he was a zero-time Pro-Bowler at the time. Steve Hutchinson is perhaps the closest thing Minnesota sports has had to Parise. Yes, an offensive guard.

Instead of losing a superstar in his prime to an East Coast team, Minnesota was finally able to lure a superstar away from an East Coast team.

What does that mean? What will happen from here? That's anybody's guess. The Wild still have big question marks and Parise will face scrutiny like he hasn't seen since his college days. Case in point:

The last Minnesota athlete to sign a mega-contract was Joe Mauer. He's currently third in the American League in batting average and first in on-base percentage, yet most fans scoff at his production.

Parise won't lead the league in scoring next season, and who knows how people will react to that. But he and his buddy, free-agent signing Ryan Suter, instantly make the Wild a better team and a playoff contender. They instantly lend credibility to the Wild in their pursuit of other free agents.

It's a strange turn, but the guy once jeered for spurning a Minnesota hockey team is now cheered for being the most significant athlete to choose a Minnesota team.

Brad Elliot Schlossman is a sports reporter for the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald.