The only way to alleviate the pain was to lie on the floor with his legs propped up on the seat of a chair.
So that’s how Wild winger Zach Parise spent most of his days.
He’d eat in that position, after his wife, Alisha, cut up the food into bite-size pieces, and sometimes that’s how Parise would sleep since the squishiness of a bed didn’t provide the same support that the ground did.
“It was rough,” he said. “It really was rough.”
Fast forward a year, though, and Parise isn’t just able to stay upright.
And he’s healthy, a turnaround that has Parise eager to resume his role with the Wild as the workhorse scorer he’s always been.
“I feel great about where my game is at,” he said. “I feel fresh.”
About three years ago, Parise started sensing pain in his back and down his leg.
An MRI noticed a disc starting to protrude — the result, Parise figures, from wear and tear over time and maybe improper training as a youngster, like trying to squat 400 pounds.
“Stuff probably added up,” he said.
By last fall, the herniated disc was causing severe leg pain and weakness that drastically limited Parise — not just on the ice but away from the rink, too. The physical restrictions also took their toll on Parise mentally, as he became irritable.
At that point, the 34-year-old didn’t care about hockey. He wanted simply to be able to sit in his own home. So at the end of October, he underwent microdiscectomy surgery to fix the disc.
Not until Jan. 2, after the Wild had plowed through nearly half of its schedule, was Parise able to slide back into the lineup. But once he did, his body responded to the repair.
“It’s slowly coming back,” he said.
Parise stayed in the lineup the rest of the regular season, racking up 15 goals and 24 points in 42 games. He became especially effective once March started, with 12 of his goals in the team’s final 18 games.
Overall, his goals-per-game pace (0.36) was just shy of his career average (0.38).
Once the playoffs started against the Jets, Parise didn’t slow down.
In Game 1, he gave the Wild a 2-1 lead in the third period before Winnipeg rallied. He broke the Jets’ shutout bid in Game 2 and then pushed the Wild ahead in the first period of Game 3.
But late in that contest, Parise was sandwiched between two Jets players — a hit that fractured his sternum and knocked him out of the postseason.
It was a tough blow for Parise and the Wild, but the injury healed and allowed him to have a normal summer of training. And that’s helped him report to camp as a throwback to the player he was before getting bogged down by back and leg problems.
“He’s been really good,” coach Bruce Boudreau said. “There’s nothing else you can say. He’s worked really hard. He’s been on the puck. He’s been doing so many good things. That’s a built-in work ethic that he has. It’s great to see him healthy.”
Chemistry with captain Mikko Koivu and a tenaciousness on the puck that comes from his quickness are reasons why Parise, who has seven seasons left on a 13-year, $98 million contract, felt he made a productive return last season. And although the Wild is still in the midst of its exhibition schedule, those signs have already popped up in Parise’s play.
During his preseason debut Thursday, Parise deflected in a Koivu shot for the Wild’s lone goal in a 3-1 loss to the Stars.
“As the game went on, we started to get a few more touches in the offensive zone and it started to slow down for us and we had some good looks,” said Parise, who was back with Koivu and winger Nino Niederreiter Saturday when the Wild hosted the Avalanche.
The Wild has three more trial runs until the regular season starts, but what Parise is accomplishing in the meantime is significant.
Not only does it point to the progress he’s already made, but it also highlights the potential of what’s to come.
“I feel like I’m moving well, and it’s just things that I was able to work on in the summer,” he said. “I know that they’re going to translate over to the games.”