Zach Parise became an established NHL player when he was with the New Jersey Devils.
That’s where he broke into the league, working his way up from a fourth-line role and skating only five minutes some nights to become an offensive leader who starred on the power play and was eventually a captain.
“It’s been fun,” Parise said. “It’s been hard work, but I’ve loved it. I’ve loved playing. I’ve loved working to get here and to stay here. The whole process has been great. I’m lucky to be here and to be in the NHL for this long.”
But as he closes in on 1,000 games, a milestone he’s on track to reach Friday when the Wild visits Dallas after hosting Vancouver on Thursday, the spotlight is very much on the current chapter of the 35-year-old left winger’s career.
Not only is he on the brink of crossing that threshold in Wild colors, but Parise’s time in Minnesota will soon surpass his tenure in New Jersey, which suggests his legacy will be shaped by what he accomplishes with the Wild.
And in that regard, Parise’s journey is far from over.
“We have a good team,” he said. “We can and should make the playoffs, and we’ll go from there. It’s hard to predict year after year, but we still got a lot of hockey. I’ve still got a lot of years left.”
The Wild’s 2002-03 season that culminated in a trip to the Western Conference finals ended right before the summer Parise was drafted. Growing up in Bloomington, Parise felt the buzz from that run, and he wanted to join the Wild. But when it didn’t happen, and the Devils scooped him up 17th overall, Parise didn’t focus on a return to the Twin Cities.
“It wasn’t a dream of mine or a goal of mine to be able to play here someday,” Parise said. “It wasn’t. I’d be lying if I said it was.”
Home, however, was exactly where he ended up in 2012 after the Wild extended him a 13-year, $98 million contract — a commitment that reflected the stature Parise built in New Jersey. He had scored more than 30 goals in a season five times and when he racked up a career-high 45 in 2008-09, he came within six points of 100.
“He makes his living in front of the net,” Wild goalie Alex Stalock said. “You’re not going to do that unless you’re competitive. A lot of his goals in the last 1,000 games, the goals he’s scored, I don’t know how many he’s finished on his feet. Whether he’s on his stomach, on his back, on his knees, whatever it is, he’s sticking his nose in there and competing for the last whack at the puck.”
Parise was a household name in the NHL, but he still felt he was beginning anew with the Wild.
“It was like starting over again,” he said. “You want to come in and earn the respect of your teammates and earn your time and earn everything.”
That move severed Parise’s career into two segments, and when he plays game No. 1,000, his tenure in both places will almost be identical since he exited the Devils after 502 games and will have suited up for 498 with the Wild.
A new chapter
Leaving New Jersey for Minnesota also represented a shift in Parise’s life away from hockey since he married his wife, Alisha, the summer he signed with the Wild, and the two have three children: twins Emelia and Jaxson, and Theodore.
“When we were young, the team was losing or he had a bad game, it would show,” Alisha said. “He would definitely bring it home. I think kids have changed him a lot. It’s put things in perspective when you have these kids running up to you, excited to see you whether you won or you lost or played well or you didn’t.”
What Alisha believes hasn’t evolved is Parise’s passion for the sport.
“He loves what he does,” she said. “I’ve never seen him change his enthusiasm throughout the years.”
There have been situations, though, when his eagerness could have waned.
After appearing in all 48 games during his lockout-shortened 2012-13 debut season with the Wild, injury sidelined Parise for parts of the next six seasons. He has dealt with foot ailments, knee problems, a concussion, a grueling back issue and a fractured sternum. The games and minutes the setbacks have cost him have pockmarked his time with the Wild, but they didn’t ruin him.
“It amazes me what he’ll do when he’s hurt to get himself better,” Alisha said. “… If the physical therapist says, ‘Do this three times a night,’ he’s going to do it five.”
So far this season, Parise has been a constant for the Wild, and the upshot of a healthy Parise has been clear.
Not only does he lead the team in goals (19) and power-play tallies (nine) and rank third in points with 32, but Parise is one finish away from notching his fifth 20-goal season with the Wild — a feat that would tie him with Marian Gaborik for the most in team history. For his career, he has 380 goals and 398 assists for 778 points, 21st all time among American players.
“Work ethic comes to mind,” said Wade Arnott, Parise’s agent. “Consistency, persistence, those are the words that come to mind for me for Zach. High character, also.”
Still plugging away
Although he may never have planned to end up here, Parise is glad he did. He spent a lot of time with his father, former North Stars standout J.P. Parise, who died in January 2015.
Zach Parise takes pride in having an impact on the Wild, but it’s also simply what he demands of himself. Actually, he feels capable of doing more.
“I don’t care that I’m 35,” he said. “I don’t feel like I’m 35. I feel good, and so I expect to stay at that level.”
Still, personal achievements tell only part of the story.
Even though he’ll go down as the 344th skater, 347th player and just eighth Minnesota-born NHLer to log 1,000 games, Parise will judge most of his career on what he did in the playoffs.
“His burning desire to win a Stanley Cup overrules everything,” Arnott said.
Right before he came to the Wild, Parise got close — losing in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final in six games. He remembers the trek as an unbelievable experience and one he wants the people he’s surrounded by now to feel for themselves.
“There’s nothing like it,” Parise said. “There’s really nothing like it.”
That’s why 1,000 games aren’t the end for Parise. The milepost is just the beginning of what else is to come.
“It’s been awesome,” he said. “[But] I do think we all look at how much better it could be.”