Souhan: J.P. Parise has hockey in his blood and in his heart

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 29, 2012 - 12:02 AM

J.P. Parise is set to embrace the reunion with his former North Stars teammates.

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J.P. Parise carried the puck for the North Stars in 1970, with goalie Cesare Maniago looking on.

Photo: Brian Wicker, Star Tribune file

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When the North Stars hold their reunion starting Thursday, former players will gather to reminisce about their hockey lives. Of course, J.P. Parise does that every day.

Parise, retired and living in his son's old house in Prior Lake, played and coached for the North Stars. He married the woman honored as the 2-millionth fan to pass through the Met Center's turnstiles. He recently visited Moscow as a member of Team Canada that played in the Summit Series in 1972, and dined with Vladmir Putin.

His hockey life gave him a son, Zach, who became a star at North Dakota and in the NHL, and brought him into contact with half of the Minnesota sports Hall of Fame. The man can tell stories about Lou Nanne, Bud Grant, Herb Brooks, John Mariucci, Bill Goldsworthy and the days when the NHL featured six teams, and on a recent weekday at a restaurant near his home, he did just that.

He remembered his buddies making fun of a slow-witted North Stars teammate, saying, "He's strong like bull, and smart like tractor.'' So one day Brooks called for "Deere" to take the ice, and the players gave him a funny look. "Deere?" Parise remembers thinking. To which Brooks said: "Yeah -- John Deere.''

He remembered Mariucci running a Stars practice, and telling players to "work on what you're good at.'' So one of Parise's teammates skated to the bench, sat down, and practiced opening the door.

He remembers leaving a North Stars luncheon and being stopped by Grant, who praised Parise's gritty style. "That, I can tell you, was the greatest compliment of my life,'' Parise said.

He remembers his friend Tom Reid, then a North Stars defenseman and now a Wild broadcaster, listening to the National Anthem before a game and telling Parise, "You know, every time I hear that song I have a bad game.''

Parise can tell stories about the time he was arrested when a teammate got into a late-night fight at a Philadelphia Denny's, and the time he locked himself, naked, out of a Pittsburgh hotel room, but he also thinks deeply about how hockey changed his life.

He grew up in Ontario, and at 16 was playing for a men's team when an opponent smashed Parise's skull with a stick during the playoffs. The next game would decide the series, and Parise's coach begged him not to retaliate. "We won, 6-5,'' Parise said. "I had four goals and two assists. There was a Boston scout in the stands. If I had gone after that guy, I don't know what would have happened.''

During expansion, Parise was drafted by the Oakland Seals. When his coach upbraided him for a mistake, Parise popped off. The next morning he was traded to Rochester, which later traded him to the North Stars. He would become a two-time All-Star and eventually an assistant coach in Minnesota before working as the hockey director at Shattuck-St. Mary's, where he'd oversee the likes of his son and Sidney Crosby.

His most powerful memory involves not a goal but a conversation. Early in his North Stars career, he boarded a team flight with teammate Ray Cullen. The flight attendant asked if they wanted anything to drink.

"I gave her some wise answer,'' Parise said. "She leaves and Ray says to me, 'Who do you think you are? Why do you have to be such a jerk all the time?' I was like, 'Whoops.' This is my best friend. So I swallowed it, and it totally changed my life.

"I started being nice to people. I learned it really doesn't take much to be nice.''

Parise's manners might have paid off a few years later. The Stars were in Boston, and Parise entered a restaurant to find a teammate sitting at a table with two sisters, one of whom had won a trip with the team by becoming the North Stars' "2-millionth fan.'' Parise was invited to join them, and four years later he and Donna were married. They're still together.

At 70, reunions are not all beer and giggles. Parise misses Goldsworthy and others who have passed. He also fondly remembers the days of old-time hockey.

"We should call these Wild the North Stars, shouldn't we?'' he said. "I remember our team being a bunch of guys who were happy to be there. There was no jealousy. Money was never an issue because we never made any. Now it's kind of changed. It's, 'After me, you're first.'

"Zach wasn't brought up like that. He's a team player. Hey, I was a team player because I had to be a team player. I depended on my guys.''

Thursday, he'll get to see them again.

Jim Souhan can be heard Sundays from 10 a.m. to noon and weekdays at 2 p.m. on 1500-AM. His Twitter name is SouhanStrib. • jsouhan@startribune.com

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