Change hits home (ice) for Parise

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 13, 2013 - 12:11 AM

A work stoppage that muted the buzz of his July arrival is over, and Zach Parise finally will suit up for the Wild.

In the early hours last Sunday morning, Alisha Parise's phone began to buzz and buzz.

She peeked to see what the ruckus was about and discovered the NHL and its Players' Association had finally agreed on a new collective bargaining agreement.

The lockout was all but over.

Now what to do? Wake up her sound-asleep husband?

"She knew how excited I'd be. She let me sleep for a bit, but finally, she couldn't resist," Zach Parise said. "It's funny. All of a sudden, all the nerves went through my body again, like this is finally, actually going to happen.

"I cannot wait for my first game with the Wild."

When Parise, 28, dons that Wild sweater Saturday night against the Colorado Avalanche, it will be 199 days since he and Ryan Suter shocked the NHL by signing matching 13-year, $98 million contracts with Minnesota.

It was a franchise-altering event.

Not only did the Wild land a No. 1 defenseman capable of playing half a game in Suter, it also acquired a high-scoring, first-line forward with an unbridled work ethic who just so happens to be Minnesota's most famous hockey player.

Signing Parise is a total game-changer for the Wild.

"Not only is Zach a great player and great leader, not only does he have a great image and the notoriety of being the top American player, but he's a local guy," said Lou Nanne, who has known Zach since he was born. Nanne, a former North Stars player, coach and general manager, is close friends with Donna and J.P. Parise, Zach's parents. Nanne and J.P. Parise were teammates with the North Stars.

"It's a body of things you just don't get in one player usually," Nanne said. "You may get a great Swede or great Finn or great Russian. But you get a great Minnesotan in a state more provincial than probably any state I know."

As General Manager Chuck Fletcher said: "Honestly, it's a bonus. The things we like about Zach, we would have wanted to sign him if he was from Moose Jaw. The fact he is from here makes it almost too good to be true."

A team to watch

The Wild has been thrust onto the national landscape. Because of captain Mikko Koivu, its stockpile of blue-chip prospects featuring Mikael Granlund and its acquisitions of Parise and Suter, the Wild is now marketable and attractive.

Locally, it received a huge box-office bump before the lockout, and jerseys flew off the shelves. The Wild will be on television more and gain more national attention, and a future Winter Classic is destined for the Twin Cities.

Wild owner Craig Leipold, eager to seize the type of marquee name that would shake the foundation of this hockey-loving state since purchasing the Wild in 2008, calls signing Parise the "perfect storm."

"Local kid. His father is an icon in North Star history. Big in the community. Premier hockey player. And the fact that he wanted to come, wanted to play here, it bodes well for our ability to attract players in the future, and frankly, it elevates our team," Leipold said. "We are now a team to be respected in the league."

The wooing begins

Soon after Parise and the New Jersey Devils, a team with which he spent his entire NHL career, lost in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals to the Los Angeles Kings, he thought about his next step. Suter, who spent his entire career with the Nashville Predators, began secretly texting back and forth as free agency approached. They had become friends representing the United States at various international competitions, most recently the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

They wanted to play together. When free agency struck July 1, Parise was at his agent's office outside of Toronto and was overwhelmed. Twenty teams showed interest, with 17 making offers.

"Ryan and I would text throughout the day and talk at night to see where everything was at," Parise said.

Wild officials got little feedback, didn't know if they were in or out and began to worry. But behind the scenes, Parise was evaluating every facet of their organization. He was educated especially on the team's young prospects.

"That's why it took three, four days," Parise said. "It's not as if we were trying to be dramatic. It's a life decision. It's a 13-year thing, so it has to be somewhere where you want to settle down, have a family, live your life and win."

Parise and his then-fiancée, Alisha, flew to the Twin Cities on July 3. Deep down, Parise admits now his decision was made to sign with the Wild as long as Suter was along for the ride. Leipold and Fletcher flew to Madison, Wis., that day to meet with Suter.

On the night of July 3, Parise called his parents and told them "there's a good chance we may sign with Minnesota," J.P. Parise said. "Before that, I told him, 'I don't want to know anything' because I have a big mouth and I didn't want to influence him. It had to be his decision.

"But we were so excited. I don't know if I've ever missed a game of his in the NHL. Now we get to watch him live. He loves Minnesota. He did his homework and believes in the team. Now he can build a family here and doesn't have to pack and go anymore. It's a much easier life."

Born to play

J.P. Parise was an assistant coach with the North Stars in 1986, and used to take his son with him to the Met Center. Born two years earlier at Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, Zach Parise took to the ice right away.

"I brought out the chair to push him around," said J.P. Parise, who played nine years for the North Stars. "The chair was gone in two minutes."

Still, Parise didn't want to force Zach to follow in his footsteps. It was actually Donna who first enrolled him in the Bloomington Jefferson program at age 4. Mom and Dad introduced Zach and his older brother, Jordan (a goalie now playing in Italy), to tennis, baseball and golf.

Zach always gravitated back to hockey.

After retiring, J.P. Parise became the hockey director at Shattuck-St. Mary's. He was there for 11 years, and that is where Zach attended prep school.

"I remember J.P. always calling me and saying, 'Lou, you wouldn't believe this kid. I give him keys to the rink and he goes all night, all morning. He's just obsessed,' " Nanne said. "Zach just loves hockey, but he works so hard at it. That was one of J.P.'s trademarks -- hard work -- and it carried over to Zach."

Parise's aura continued to grow. He scored 146 goals and 346 points in 125 games at Shattuck. He scored with 58 seconds left to lift the United States to gold at the 2002 Under-18 world championship.

Colleges swarmed, including North Dakota and Minnesota. After a sitdown with then-Sioux coach Dean Blais and a visit to the brand-spanking-new Ralph Engelstad Arena, Parise committed to North Dakota a week before a planned visit to the Gophers.

Nanne and former Gophers and North Stars coach Glen Sonmor tried to get Parise to reconsider.

"I didn't promise him power play, I didn't promise him penalty kill, and here everyone else were telling him he'd be the key to their team," said Blais, now coaching Nebraska Omaha. "I just said, 'Hey, we've got a lot of good players. You're going to be one of them.' I think he liked that.

"It told me about his character. It told me no one gave him anything in his hockey. He wanted to work for it."

Career in bloom

Parise was the big man on North Dakota's campus before even suiting up.

"Our first semester, we had to change our dorm number three times because people were calling at all hours of the night," said Parise's freshman roommate, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Greene. "Everybody wanted a piece of him. There were kids in the art department who painted Sioux heads for a project. They'd get them graded and come up to have Zach sign them.

"In college hockey, they didn't put names on the back of jerseys. In the Sioux store, No. 11 was the only jersey with a name on it and people were buying them left and right."

Parise was a two-time Hobey Baker nominee. At the 2004 world juniors, he led the U.S. to its first gold with a tournament-leading 11 points. He was chosen MVP.

The summer before, the Devils drafted Parise 17th overall, leapfrogging teams such as the Wild in a trade with Edmonton. He has developed into one of the top forwards in the game, scoring 194 goals and 410 points in 502 games.

Like Koivu, Parise is considered an engine to a team. He is relentless in his preparation and in the way he plays, whether it's forechecking, backchecking, chasing the puck or coming out of the corner with that puck despite his 5-foot-11 size.

Off the ice, he's quiet and humble. On the ice, he flips a switch and is fiery.

He has got a leader's persona. In New Jersey starting in 2008, they had what was called "Zach's Camp" or "Shot Club" where Parise, Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner would hit the ice sometimes 30 minutes before others to do shooting drills and practice deflections.

Parise scored a career-high 45 goals and 94 points that year and soon, five, six, seven players would join.

"Minnesota could not have hand-picked a better hockey player, a better person and a better work ethic than Zach," said former Wild forward Brian Rolston, Parise's teammate in New Jersey. "He's going to minimally score you 30 goals a year, he's great defensively. He's the real deal.

"I was reading about their young centerman [Granlund]. You can point to Mikko and point to Zach and say, 'Do what they do.' A lot of organizations don't have that. They don't cheat. They play the game the right way."

Many stars would avoid the pressure of playing at home and being under the microscope, but the Kings' Greene said: "Zach's a guy that embraces pressure. He wants to bring a Stanley Cup to Minnesota, to finish his career in his hometown."

"More than anything else," Parise said, "I want to win. You get so close last year, you want to get back there and have another crack at it. I think it'd even be that much more special if we can do it here. Fans here deserve a championship team. That would be the ultimate."

  • 2013 WILD • Season opener: 8 p.m. Saturday vs. Colorado • Xcel Energy Center • TV: FSN (100.3-FM)

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