DULUTH – Zach Parise doesn’t take solace in the fact that he helped the Wild make the playoffs for the first time in five years last season. Parise doesn’t buy into the notion that simply making the playoffs equates a successful season.
After all, this is a guy who traveled to the brink of winning the Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils the year before.
Parise still knows though that the Wild, after years of restocking the cupboard and losing despite spending to the salary-cap ceiling, needed to start somewhere.
But Parise has big aspirations, and starting Thursday when the Wild opens the 2013-14 campaign against the Los Angeles Kings, the Minneapolis native expects more from himself and his team.
Parise scored 18 goals and 38 points during last year’s shortened season. Over an 82-game span, that’s a pace of 31 goals and 65 points. Not bad, but for a proud player who scored more than a point per game three years ago for the Devils and a career-high 45 goals and 94 points in 2008-09, Parise called it just, “OK.”
“In my mind, I know I can play a lot better,” Parise, 29, said. “For me, that’s encouraging because I know I can be a lot better. I’m not going to say I was terrible, but it wasn’t my best. For me, I thought it was just average.”
Talk about an honest assessment from an honest, hardworking player, one who often says what he feels and wears his happiness or frustration on his face.
Last season wasn’t an easy one for Parise, and he never could have predicted it. Parise and Ryan Suter sent shock waves through the NHL and state of Minnesota when they each signed matching 13-year, $98 million contracts on July 4, 2012.
Then, the buzz kill — they each had to wait six months to don a Wild sweater because of the lockout.
Still, Parise was coming home to Minnesota. He never envisioned how difficult an adjustment it would be to walk into a new dressing room, get accustomed to a flurry of new things, like a staff and system, after years of comfort in New Jersey.
It affected his game on the ice.
“I’m never one to make an excuse, but it was hard,” Parise said. “There’s different things that come into play. You’re playing in a new rink all the time with new people you’re not familiar with, and I think a lot of times I played too conservative, too much to not make mistakes.
“A lot of times I wasn’t overly comfortable playing. I just feel this year a lot more comfortable and relaxed.”
Parise also opted not to play overseas like many NHL players during the lockout. He started to worry he’d fall behind if the lockout ended. To compensate, he felt he “overtrained, and I got worn down quick. I felt more tired last year than I ever have.”
All this culminated in April, when the Wild fell from division leader April 1 to having to win its regular-season finale to even make the playoffs.
Parise scored one goal in the playoffs. Linemate Mikko Koivu didn’t register a point. The Wild fell in five games to the Chicago Blackhawks, and that weighed on Parise all offseason.
“You need your big players to play, and we didn’t produce in the playoffs,” Parise said. “It makes it tough for your team to win when the guy’s that you’re relying on don’t produce. It makes it for a long offseason. It’s not a fun feeling.
“I respect the way Mikko plays. He plays hard and plays the right way. I enjoy playing with him, but to really be an elite line in this league, I think we have to get better and hopefully we will.”
Parise believes Jason Pominville, whom the Wild is trying to sign to an extension, will help the line.
“He’s a smart player, he scores and he makes other players better,’’ Parise said. ‘‘He was such a big pickup for us, and hopefully he stays here for a long time.”
Father to be
It’ll be a busy year for Parise. His wife, Alisha, is pregnant with twins, a boy and girl due in January. After winning silver at the 2010 Winter Olympics, Parise again will represent the United States in Sochi, Russia, in February.
Oh, and he’ll play the Devils twice — Nov. 3 at home and returning to Newark, N.J., for the first time March 20.
Last season, Nashville Predators fans constantly booed Suter during his return, and the team didn’t acknowledge Suter, something it had done previously for returning players.
“Trust me, I’m not expecting a tribute when I go back [to New Jersey]. I’m not expecting them to dim the lights down,” Parise said, laughing. “That’s what I respect about the Devils. It’s ‘team’ there and they do a fantastic job of getting everybody to buy into it.
“It was pretty hostile down there in Nashville. Will they boo me in Jersey? I don’t know. I’m sure there are a lot of mixed feelings and I understand that. But the fans were awesome to me when I was there.”
Ready for a run
Parise will be happy to get both meetings over with. Then, he can officially turn the page to Minnesota.
All he wants to do is win here.
“This is such a good sports city and sports state, how they support the Twins and Vikings and Wild,” Parise said. “I think winning here would be incredible. Hockey is everything here.
“I remember up at North Dakota in college watching the Wild’s ’03 run to the conference finals. I thought our dorms were going to collapse when Bruno [Andrew Brunette] scored in overtime [to beat Colorado]. That’s what I want to experience here. The support the team gets only quadruples as you run through the playoffs and everyone catches the fever.
“There’s nothing like the fun you have playing in a sold-out building with supportive fans.”