Souhan: Parise finds playing for home team at the X is all it's cracked up to be

  • Article by: JIM SOUHAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 20, 2013 - 4:30 AM
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Erik Johnson, left, tries to push the Wild's Zach Parise out of the way of Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov

Photo: Jim Mone, Associated Press

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By some quirk of scheduling, the Minnesota Wild opened its 2013 season at home on Saturday night after the Gophers played North Dakota at Mariucci and a bunch of high school games were contested outside in the bitter wind.

Someone should capitalize on this. Maybe call it "Ice Sports Weekend in the Upper Midwest." That has a ring to it.

The Wild began its shortest yet most promising season on Saturday night at the X. The game, like the open scrimmage on Wednesday and ticket sales all week, erased any vestiges of the silly notion that hockey fans would protest against the lockout in any visible way.

The joint sold out, and the fans were loud ... and by the end of the first period, they were loudly booing.

The NHL lockout not only frustrated the Wild's clientele, it led to Minnesota-born Zach Parise's debut being delayed by months. When his team played for a period like it had practiced nothing but boot hockey, there was a restless feeling in the crowd, and in Parise's stomach.

"I was very nervous," he said.

This was new territory for the Wild. This wasn't exactly like welcoming Martin Havlat or Devin Setoguchi.

The Wild trailed 1-0 in the second period when the Avalanche put the Wild on the power play. Given extra time to work with his linemates in the offensive zone, and extra time with the puck, Parise began showing off his considerable skills. The result was, like opening night, delayed but satisfying.

He set up Dany Heatley with two power-play goals in the second period, the second on a 5-on-3, and the Wild eased to a 4-2 opening-night victory.

"It was awesome," Parise said. "It was electric right at the beginning of the game. Then, unfortunately, in the first period we didn't give them too much to cheer about. Then once we realized how we have to play, it was a lot of fun."

Parise was the second-to-last player introduced, after captain Mikko Koivu. He, Koivu and Heatley formed the first line, and to Heatley's benefit.

Lacking a classic front-of-the-net mucker for power plays, Heatley has taken on the job. On the Wild's first goal, Parise bounced a shot off Colorado goalie Semyon Varlamov, and Heatley flipped the rebound into the net.

After Mikael Granlund scored his first career goal in his NHL debut to give the Wild a 2-1 lead, Parise took advantage of a 5-on-3 by camping near the post and giving Heatley the puck at point-blank range. When Heatley shoved (or toed) the puck past Varlamov, Parise had two points, and his team soon would, too.

"It was great to stop analyzing and overanalyzing and listen to everyone overanyalzye and just go play," Parise said.

"I just love how he attacks the net," said Wild coach Mike Yeo.

In style and in conversation, Parise is remindful of Joe Mauer. He's a Minnesota-born star who drops the occasional "Jeez" into his sentences. He's soft-spoken and analytical, and he's more likely to impress with deftness than by swinging for the fences.

"I love the fact that I'm going to get to be up here as many times [as I will] and be able to talk about how good he is," Yeo said.

"I mean, the skill level and the speed ... but the work ethic, it's just relentless."

Last July, Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter signed identical 13-year, $98 million contracts. The signings immediately made the Wild better, and immediately ramped up expectations for Parise and his new team.

The contract isn't what gave him butterflies, though. He said playing his debut at home, for the team he chose, in front of his relatives and friends, made this one of the most nerve-wracking nights of his life.

That's saying something for a player who led his previous team to the Stanley Cup Finals.

"This is just a different feeling," he said. "I've been in some pretty nerve-wracking games, but this one was pretty special."

Why?

"Being home," he said, as he ripped tape off his leg. "It was just from playing at home."

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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