Twelve years ago, Scott Stevens learned the hard way that Zach Parise had a knack for scoring goals.
Stevens was sidelined by a concussion late in his final NHL season. At the same time, Parise, a hotshot 19-year-old, signed with the New Jersey Devils after his sophomore season at University of North Dakota. So Stevens, one of the league’s most intimidating players, a future Hall of Fame defenseman and the Devils’ injured captain, would go on the ice every day with Parise at 8 a.m.
About their second time on the ice, the Devils’ strength coach set up five targets and a Shooter Tutor.
“I’ve heard all the Scott Stevens stories and watched him kill guys on the ice, but the strength coach put five pucks at the hash marks,” said Parise, the Wild left wing, shaking his head and laughing. “Every target we hit, the other guy had to do 10 pushups.
“He hit two, so I did 20. Then, I went, and instead of being smart and ripping a couple wide, I hit all five. He gave me this look, like, ‘Are you kidding me, rookie?’ ”
Stevens, legendary at the time for being one of the league’s fittest, never held the 50 pushups against Parise.
After all, the Wild assistant coach says, “He shot the puck better than me.”
Stevens took Parise under his wing. He’d take Parise to lunch, bring him to his kid’s lacrosse games. Stevens and his wife, Donna, had Parise over to their home often.
“Zach’s my type of guy,” Stevens said. “Nobody works harder. Zach pushes everybody, and his compete level and work ethic is second to none. He’s probably the best forechecker in the league. He’s relentless on the forecheck, he turns pucks over and a lot of his success comes from hard work. He’s got talent and skill, but he just works. This is why he’s been rewarded his entire career.”
Parise, 32, is one goal from a pretty impressive milestone. One of these nights, maybe Tuesday against the Los Angeles Kings, Parise will become the third Minnesota-born 300-goal scorer.
Only Dave Christian at 340 and Phil Housley at 338 are ahead of him. Last season, Parise passed one of his heroes, Neal Broten, who ranks fourth with 289.
Defenseman Ryan Suter, who used to play for the Madison Capitals and Culver Academy, finds all this amazing. He still remembers battling with Parise as a peewee, then as a teenager when Parise played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s.
“It’d be me vs. him basically, two-handers, cross-checking each other, but he always played the same way,” Suter said. “Just played hard, same stride, hunched over. Fifteen, 16 years later, he’s become the ultimate pro.”
The last video clip coach Bruce Boudreau showed the Wild before practice Monday was Parise blocking a shot in the third period of a one-goal game Saturday.
“Those are things that stars don’t do — a lot of them don’t anyway,” Boudreau said. “That’s the way he plays.”
Parise remembers as a kid just dreaming he’d someday follow in his father J.P.’s footsteps and make it to the NHL. Now, here he is, ahead of Broten and chasing Housley.
“It’s humbling,” Parise said. “You get fortunate to play on good teams and with good players where you have success as a line, and everyone benefits. It’s a neat milestone.”
Parise, reminding himself that he hit the post in the final seconds against Winnipeg, added with a huge laugh: “I wish that empty-netter would have went in.”
Parise grew up going to North Stars games. He was a giant fan of Broten and Mike Modano.
“My dad would tell me, ‘Hey, watch those guys, they play the game the right way,’ so those were the guys I was brought up watching and idolizing and wanting to follow in their footsteps,” Parise said. ‘‘To be in their company statistically, it’s hard to think about. You grow up, you never know if you’re going to make it. You want to get there, but to be in that spot now, it’s pretty special.”
And now, it’s Parise who’s the role model.
“My rookie year, I was on a line with Mikko [Koivu] and Zach right away, so I was pretty nervous just to make bad passes. I was more nervous for practices than games, I think,” said Charlie Coyle, in his fifth season and Parise’s current linemate. “But then you meet him, and he’s such a nice guy and made me feel so comfortable early on in my career.
“He hounds that puck and is like a dog out there, always coming up with it. What I respect most, Mikko and him, they set the bar the way they go about their business. It’s all business here. You can’t slack off because they’ll tell you then and there, especially Mikko. Zach, it’s more lead by example.
“You watch Zach go, you’re like, ‘OK, this is how you’re supposed to do it up here, this is how you better be every day.’ ”