Zach Parise hadn’t played in a real game since April 22. That’s 250 days away from hockey for the co-highest-paid player on the Wild.
Well, Thursday, the winger was finally back on the ice, albeit with the American Hockey League’s Iowa Wild in Des Moines in a 6-3 loss to Rockford. Minus the five casual pickup games in Da Beauty League this past summer, that was Parise’s first real action since missing most of training camp and all of the season so far with an injury that led to microdiscectomy surgery in late October.
“It all comes back pretty quickly,” Parise said Friday after morning skate at Xcel Energy Center. “But there was a lot of excitement just to be back and get on the ice for warmups and just get in a game situation finally. I was really excited to do that and happy that it went really well. Keep making progress after that, but I really enjoyed it, and I thought it was a good step for me.”
Parise logged an assist on Luke Kunin’s goal in the first period, but Parise said it took him a bit to feel comfortable.
“I’d say it took a period, a period and a half. That first period was pretty tough,” Parise said. “Once you’ve got to make plays at top speed, you get tired pretty quickly because the endurance level isn’t there. That’s stuff I’ll have to work through and be patient and know that it’ll come. But take a little bit to knock the rust off.
“There wasn’t a lot of hitting in the game as it was, but I would say probably a little tentative.,” Parise said of his start. “And then after that, started to touch the puck a little more and get involved a little more in the corners and things like that, and I thought it went well.”
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he felt Parise came back to the NHL team “feeling pretty good about himself.”
“He played 15 minutes-plus, started out a little tentative, as you can expect anyone would. But as the game went on, he got better,” Boudreau said. “He got quicker. He got more involved. And by the end of the game, he was doing well. So I mean, for a first time a guy’s played in what? Since April? That’s pretty good.”
Parise said he hadn’t spoken with General Manager Chuck Fletcher yet about a game plan for his return. And while conditioning stints can last up to 14 days, Parise said he was unsure whether he would need to head back down to Iowa for another game or not.
But even if it was only for one night, Parise said he had “a lot of fun.” Probably so did the more than 7,000 fans who attended, though dollar dog night might have been a factor as well.
After seven games and two periods on the sidelines, Devan Dubnyk started in goal Friday, making 41 saves in the Wild’s 4-2 victory over Nashville at Xcel Energy Center.
Dubnyk left after the first period of Dec. 12’s Calgary game when he felt a pop that led to his lower-body injury. He said he knew something was wrong right away but had never had an injury like that before, so he finished the period so he wouldn’t have to put his goalie partner in the tough position of coming off the bench.
He eased back into his start, first skating again Dec. 21 before sitting on the bench as Alex Stalock’s backup Wednesday against Dallas. While Dubnyk said he still feels a little sore, and it will probably be like that for a while, he hasn’t experienced any “hesitation in movements on the ice” since Dec. 23.
The goalie said it was just one specific spot causing him pain, which in a way made recovery easier because it didn’t impact more than just that area. When he first skated again, he said he wasn’t sure if he would be able to manage the butterfly move so routine for his position, but the more he did it, the better he felt, and it improved from there.
“It hasn’t been that long, but it feels like a long time,” Dubnyk said. “Just got to try to keep my approach simple. It usually only takes a couple minutes to get back into feeling normal. I’ve just got to concentrate on a couple small things and get back into the flow.”
Nino Niederreiter, who left the Dec. 22 game at Florida because of a foot or ankle injury, and Parise might return next week. Niederreiter skated Friday and will continue to skate through the weekend.
“It’s frustrating at the point when you look in August and say, ‘You know what? Things are looking pretty good.’ But then you might not get that team until January,” Boudreau said. “Hopefully in January when we get that team, we’ll look pretty good.”