CALGARY, ALBERTA – With the Wild lounging around Newport Beach, Calif., earlier this week, Zach Parise had to step out when his cellphone buzzed with Dan Bylsma’s name coming up on the caller ID.
Parise, the Wild star competing in his second Winter Olympics Feb. 13-23 with the United States, figured it was just a routine update being provided to the five-player leadership group, which includes himself, Wild teammate Ryan Suter, Los Angeles Kings captain Dustin Brown, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes and New York Rangers captain Ryan Callahan.
Parise was informed by the U.S. coach that he will captain the red, white and blue in Sochi.
“We’ve got a lot of players that are great leaders,” said Parise, 29. “I’m going to get a lot of help, and I’m going to need a lot of help. It is a special thing, though. It’s very humbling.”
While Parise was named “Captain America,” Suter and Brown were chosen as alternate captains.
Suter was a no-brainer. No player on the U.S. team has worn an American sweater in international competition more than him (64 games). Along with Parise, Suter was an alternate captain during the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and previously captained the U.S. at the 2005 world junior championship.
“A lot of guys on the team could have had it, so I just feel honored to be one of them,” Suter said.
Wild captain Mikko Koivu is expected to captain Finland during the Olympics. Koivu has missed the past 12 games because of a broken ankle, so Finland is waiting for Koivu to officially be declared good to go before making the announcement.
Parise, the former captain of the New Jersey Devils, tied for the team lead in both goals (four) and points (eight) for the silver medalists in Vancouver. He forced overtime in the gold medal game by scoring with 24.4 seconds left in regulation.
He previously was alternate captain on the gold medal-winning 2004 world junior championship team.
Bylsma coaches the Pittsburgh Penguins, so his team faced off against Parise often when he played for the Devils. Bylsma said Parise embodies the blue-collar attitude he wants from his team in Sochi.
“Every time we played against Zach Parise, there has been a work ethic, a never quit, a determination, an abrasiveness about a hard-to-play-against type of player — and it’s every time,” he said. “Regardless of the score, regardless of the situation our respective teams might be in, that’s what you see and that’s what you get every time I’ve coached against Zach Parise.”
Parise has played four games since returning from a broken foot that kept him out of the Wild’s lineup Dec. 23-Jan. 21. In two games since finding out he was named the U.S. captain, Parise has recorded three goals and seven points.
“You get a guy that gives his absolute full effort every game, every practice, every shift,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “The best word to describe him is relentless.”
In 591 NHL games over nine years, Parise has 230 goals and 482 points. He has played in the playoffs seven times, helping the Wild end a four-year playoff drought last season. He captained the Devils to the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, where they lost to the Kings.
His mentor in New Jersey was recently retired Jamie Langenbrunner, who captained the U.S. in 2010.
“I sat next to him in the locker room while he was our captain [in New Jersey], and while he was our captain in Vancouver,” Parise said. “Not an overly vocal guy in the locker room, but you know he’s going to play hard the right way in every game, and he leads by example.
“As I get older in the league, you kind of remember those kinds of things. What was unique about Jamie was that he was able to lead the same way when the team was winning and the team was losing, which is a hard thing.”
The Americans open the tournament Feb. 13 against Slovakia.
“We have two practices and maybe a morning skate, so it’ll go quick,” Suter said. “We’ve got to come together fast. The team that does will have the best chance.”