Wild's Parise isn't expecting a warm Jersey welcome

  • Article by: MICHAEL RUSSO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 20, 2014 - 12:12 PM

In his first trip back to New Jersey, the former Devils captain knows he won’t be the most popular player on the ice.

– 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.

Heading home

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.

Minnesota was perfect.

Parise grew up in and around Minneapolis. He and his fiancée, Alisha, were getting married a few weeks after free agency and planned to start a family.

Suter grew up in nearby Madison, Wis., and his wife, Becky, is from the Twin Cities.

Every team was offering contract lengths that likely would take them to the end of their careers, so Minnesota just made so much sense and has been everything Parise envisioned.

“It’s been awesome and fantastic,” Parise said.

Alisha gave birth to the couple’s first children — a boy and girl — in January, and Parise’s parents, former North Star J.P. Parise and Donna, are “perfect baby sitters.” Parise gets to be home for special events and holidays, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, and his father gets to come to practices and pregame meals.

Eager to succeed

Parise still feels the “sting” of losing in the Cup Final, although that’s his best memory of New Jersey. It also drives him two years later in a Wild sweater.

“Losing when you’re that close is brutal,” Parise said. “It’s so hard to get there. You never know if you’re going to get the chance to get back there. A lot of things have to go right, you have to get lucky, you have to have a great team, but it is motivating to try as hard as you can because careers go by pretty quickly.

“You want to get back there and have another crack.”

Matt Moulson, a three-time 30-goal scorer with the Islanders, returned to Long Island on Tuesday and scored two goals and an assist in a 6-0 Wild win.

You know Parise would love to replicate that.

“He’ll be nervous,” Suter said. “He’ll be up for that game, and it’ll be fun for the guys, too. We want to go out and play hard for him.”

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