Parise back after stint as Olympic 'model'

  • Article by: KENT YOUNGBLOOD , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 24, 2014 - 12:29 AM
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After missing 14 games, Wild forward Zach Parise returned to action Thursday night against Chicago. There was less pain in his injured foot, but Parise was still a bit uncomfortable — thanks to his teammates.

Perhaps you saw it. The Team USA outfits for the Opening and Closing Ceremony at the Sochi Olympics were announced Thursday morning. As part of the unveiling, certain athletes — including Parise — were pictured wearing the clothes.

The uniform includes a heavily adorned, red, white and blue cardigan sweater with white fleece pants. And while the uniform was quite striking, some of Parise’s teammates found the picture of him wearing it rather humorous. And they let him know it with good-natured ribbing and making sure several copies of the picture were posted around the players’ dressing room and lounge areas.

“It’s not for everybody,” defenseman Keith Ballard said. “It’s not for me. And I don’t think it’s really Zach’s look, either. If he were to pick one out, it would probably be a pair of jeans and a USA sweatshirt. It’s not the best look.”

Added Matt Cooke: “To each their own. I’m not sure I’d go with a cardigan like that. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there were 30 pictures around this dressing room with him on it.”

Parise was diplomatic.

“We got a lot of requests in the locker room from guys who want to get that sweater,” he joked. “And yeah, there are a few 8x10s here I’ve run across.”

The good news is that, because of the tight schedule of the NHL players playing in the Olympics, neither Parise nor Ryan Suter will actually have to wear the uniforms. The NHLers will be getting to Sochi after the Opening Ceremony and will have left before the Closing Ceremony.

But that doesn’t help Parise.

“We never get to wear the stuff,” he said. “But the picture is out there.”

Budding rivalry?

More than halfway through the first season after the league realigned, some players who have been with the Wild for a while say it has taken time for new divisional rivalries to build.

“As time goes on, the more those rivalries will come,” defenseman Clayton Stoner said.

Said defenseman Nate Prosser: “It is building, but slowly. As we play these guys a lot more, we’re getting an understanding of the teams, what their identities are. It takes time.”

Among the new divisional opponents, matchups against Winnipeg figure to grow in intensity simply because of the proximity of the two teams. But the Wild’s rivalry with Chicago — which carries some weight with fans who followed the old North Stars — already is coalescing, thanks to last year’s playoffs.

“Any time you play a team in the playoffs, you develop a hatred for that team,” Stoner said. “That started last year in Chicago.”

That, plus the fact Chicago is one of the league’s most talented teams, has lent a buzz to any game against the Blackhawks.

Zucker moves to fourth line

Parise’s return meant Jason Zucker was moved to the fourth line, new territory for him. Coach Mike Yeo said Zucker can buy himself more playing time with the Wild — and less time with the Iowa Wild — if he’s able to prove he can contribute in that role. He also will get some time on the penalty kill.

“If he can be effective in that role, he’s giving himself a better chance of staying here, long-term,” Yeo said.

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