NEWARK, N.J. – Scott Niedermayer, one of the most beloved ex-Devils in history, wasn’t honored during his first return to New Jersey, so Zach Parise’s not expecting a sappy tribute or video-board acknowledgment.
“That’s just not the way they do things,” Parise said.
Thursday night when the Wild faces the Devils, Parise will walk into Prudential Center for the first time since the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. It has been exactly 624 days since the Devils captain departed the team that drafted him in the first round nine years earlier to build a family, life and rest of career at home in Minnesota.
Most Devils fans still don’t forgive him, so Parise doesn’t expect a warm welcome back.
“A lot of mixed reviews,” he said.
Parise witnessed firsthand the return of Ryan Suter, his free-agent in arms, to Nashville.
“I’m not sure it’ll be as hostile, but who knows,” Parise said. “I’m excited for the game. But I’m also excited for when that game is over. I can’t wait to get it over with. I wish it happened last year.”
Last year’s game was scrapped because of the intraconference-only schedule stemming from the NHL lockout that wiped out 34 games per team.
Parise, 29, is a big sports fan himself, so he gets the fact that fans don’t always accept their own players getting out of Dodge via free agency. And in today’s age where contract numbers are revealed to the public in a jiffy, the digits emblazoned on the Parise/Suter contracts were eye-popping — 13 years, $98 million each.
Making his mark
But Parise loved his time in New Jersey and “the part I’ll remember most is how good [the fans] were to me when I was there.” He grew into a complete player in New Jersey, became a professional.
“Lou runs a really tight ship there,” Parise said of longtime General Manager Lou Lamoriello, who has led the team to three Stanley Cups since 1995. “People have heard the stories — no facial hair, no taping over the stripes on your socks, no jerseys tucked. There’s a lot of things.
“It’s all about being a team and not one person sticking out in front of anybody else. They really teach you about being a good teammate and being a professional. Everything is first-class. They do a good job, when you’re a young player especially, [teaching] what it takes to play in the league and how to be a pro.”
Parise ranks fourth in Devils history with 194 goals. His best year came in 2008-09 when he scored a career-high 45 goals and 94 points and was a second-team NHL All-Star.
In the spring of 2012, the Devils surprised many by riding into the Stanley Cup Final. They lost to Los Angeles in six games, and Parise immediately had to turn the page to begin preparing for a looming free-agent frenzy like few others in NHL history.
Behind the scenes, Parise and Suter aligned. They became friends as teenagers and wanted to play together. They were courted by a dozen teams, including the Wild, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Detroit. Suter didn’t want to play in New Jersey and Parise didn’t want to play in Nashville, so that all but ended the chance of either returning to their former teams.