The last time Zach Parise was in the minors was during the 2004-05 NHL lockout.
Well, 12 years later, he’s making his triumphant return.
The veteran Wild forward likely will play Thursday night with the American Hockey League Iowa Wild against the Rockford IceHogs in Des Moines. Parise has been practicing with the big club recently as part of his recovery from a late October microdiscectomy surgery.
He missed most of training camp and all of season so far because of the injury and surgery, so now that he has recently gotten the OK for full contact, this will be his first game.
“Even on that eight-day trip, we practiced one time. When you’re not on a line, these guys have to get ready to play games, and when you’re not on a line, it’s tough to get reps,” Parise said Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center. “So I think this would probably be the best thing to move forward to go there, practice with them, play a game and go from there.
“I talked to a good friend of mine who missed camp as well and missed a good chunk of games, and he said in hindsight that he wished he had gone down and played some games and gotten in shape and then stepped in,” Parise said.
“It takes awhile to catch back up to the conditioning level, the endurance level that these guys are at. It doesn’t happen overnight, and you can skate by yourself as much as you want, but you have to get in those games and get those reps in. And so it just made the most sense that it would be a good starting point.”
Parise said after Thursday’s game, he plans to come back up to Minnesota and practice with the Wild on Friday. But that’s as far as he’s planned. Coach Bruce Boudreau said he hoped to see Parise’s return sometime “very early in the new year.”
“Yeah, I’m not doing the back-to-back, I know that,” Parise said, as Iowa also plays Friday at Rockford. “I did look at that, though, I did consider it, but we just thought we didn’t know how good of an idea that would be maybe to play and then hop on a bus for five hours and play the next night. Work a little slower than that.”
The Wild’s highest-paid star joked about packing his gear because he’d been “sent down,” but his memories from his last stint in the minors are actually pretty fond.
“I’m sure it’s changed a little bit since then,” Parise said. “It was awesome. The league was really good. It was, I’m not joking. Each team had probably six or seven [NHL] regulars.”
At least for one night, one Pitlick has a chance to upstage the other in Minnesota
Tyler Pitlick, a former Centennial High School standout, will play in his home state Wednesday as a forward for the Dallas Stars. But these days, it’s usually his younger cousin Rem Pitlick, a sophomore forward for the Gophers, who snags the spotlight.
“Our family’s a hockey family, and it’s definitely cool to see him doing so well,” Tyler Pitlick said. “I mean, I think he’s leading in goals and points over there ... drafted by Nashville. And it’ll be pretty cool to get to play against him some day.”
Pitlick said he texts with his cousin every now and then, mostly when Rem asks him for advice on how to balance school and hockey. Pitlick joked that he’s not actually the best source for that, since he lasted only a season at Minnesota State. But according to Pitlick, Rem is one of the most hard working and dedicated players he’s seen, so he should be just fine.
Tyler Pitlick, who joined the Stars from Edmonton this past summer, said he wasn’t sure if his cousin would be one of the 50 or so family and friends coming to see the game against the Wild on Wednesday. But Pitlick already has received probably the most Minnesota welcome of all since he’s been home throughout the Christmas break.
“It was minus-5, and I got together with a couple buddies yesterday and got out on the outdoor rink to get my legs moving,” Pitlick said. “That’s the part that I think’s so special.”
Here’s how Martin Hanzal summed up his time with the Wild: “It was short.”
Well, he was only here for a grand total of 20 games last season after a February trade from the Arizona Coyotes. And while it lasted just a few months before he signed with Dallas this past summer, the veteran winger said he still remembers how the fans were so into every small play.
With a rival team now in the stacked Central Division, Hanzal said he’s enjoyed being one of several additions who have helped reshape the Stars.
“It’s a lot of new stuff, you know, a lot of new tactics,” Hanzal said.
“And even the older guys like [Jason] Spezza, Jamie [Benn], [Tyler Seguin], they were here, but the new coach, he brought in all new stuff.
“So you have to adapt to that. But I think we are lately playing better, so it’s been fun.”
• Winger Nino Niederreiter still is out because of a foot or ankle injury he endured before the break. He did not practice Wednesday. But Boudreau said he was hopeful the forward would practice Thursday.
• Goaltender Devan Dubnyk did practice Wednesday and was on the bench as the backup for Alex Stalock in the Dallas game. Dubnyk likely will play at some point this weekend after missing six games because of a lower-body injury.