J.P. Parise, a standout for the old Minnesota North Stars and a longtime coach and administrator in the state of hockey, died Wednesday night after a yearlong battle with lung cancer. He was 73.
Parise was a two-time NHL All-Star for the North Stars and a key player for Team Canada in the “Summit Series” against the Soviet Union in 1972. He was the father of Wild winger Zach Parise, an NHL All-Star himself and captain of the 2014 U.S. Olympic team.
“We appreciate the outpouring of support we have received from family, friends and the entire hockey community during this difficult time,” the Parise family said in a statement. “J.P. was a great husband, father and grandpa and will be greatly missed by all of us.”
Parise had been in hospice care at his Prior Lake home since Jan. 1. He passed away around 9 p.m., surrounded by friends and family, including wife Donna and sons Zach and Jordan.
Funeral arrangements were pending.
“The National Hockey League family mourns the passing and cherishes the memory of J.P. Parise,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a league release. “Especially in his adopted home state of Minnesota, J.P. was the consummate player, teacher and administrator in the game.”
Jean-Paul Parise was born Dec. 11, 1941 in Smooth Rock Falls, Ontario. He was signed by the Boston Bruins as a teenager, and spent several years playing junior and minor league hockey before making his debut with Boston in 1965. Two of his minor league seasons were spent with a Bruins farm team in Minneapolis.
Like many players of his era, Parise was stuck in the minors because the NHL had only six teams. In 1967, the league doubled in size, giving new life to scores of such players.
Parise played 21 games for the Boston Bruins and one for the Toronto Maple Leafs, getting his big break when he was traded by Toronto to the North Stars on Dec. 23, 1967. He quickly became a standout for the expansion team, making the NHL All-Star team in 1970 and 1973.
During the 1974-75 season, he was traded to the New York Islanders, where he had two 20-goal seasons. He was dealt to the Cleveland Barons during the 1977-78 season and, in a quirk of fate, ended up with the North Stars the following season when the Cleveland and Minnesota franchises merged. He played one more season in Minnesota before retiring in 1979.
Parise played in 890 NHL games, scoring 238 goals and picking up 356 assists for 594 points, 300th most in league history. He had 706 penalty minutes, and added 27 goals and 58 points in 87 playoff games.
For nine seasons after retirement, he was an assistant coach for the North Stars, spending one season coaching the team’s Central Hockey League affiliate in Salt Lake City. Following that, he was director of hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school in Faribault.
Tom Reid, the Wild’s radio analyst, was Parise’s teammate with the North Stars and remained a close friend.
“J.P. was probably one of the best cornermen in the game,” Reid said. “When he went in the corner, he was going to come out with the puck. But he was a very honest hockey player. No cheap shots out there.
“He was the same on and off the ice. Honest. When he talked, you listened.”
J.P. met Donna when she was honored as the North Stars’ two millionth fan in 1971. She and her sister won a road trip with the team, and she met her future husband at a restaurant in Boston. They married in 1972 and had sons Zach and Jordan who, like his brother, played college hockey at North Dakota.
Jordan Parise, 32, was a goalie who is now retired after a professional hockey career.
J.P. Parise is also survived by two children, Colette and Marc, from his first marriage, and six grandchildren.
Zach Parise, who signed a 13-year contract with the Wild in 2012, found out his father had lung cancer in February when he returned from the Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
J.P. Parise went to a doctor because of kidney stones earlier that winter when his cancer was diagnosed. A heavy smoker before quitting in 1973, he survived prostate cancer in 1999.
“I’m 72 years old,” J.P. Parise told the Star Tribune in September. “The average life here is what, 75, 76, 77? I might end up in the middle of things,” he said, laughing. “That’s life. If someone was to tell you today that you’re going to be going at 77, 78, you’d say, ‘Boy, that’s not bad.’ I never think of this shortening my life, this shortening anything I’m going to do. I’m still going to travel, I’m still going to watch hockey.”
The Wild faces Chicago on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews played at Shattuck-St. Mary’s when J.P. Parise was a coach and hockey director there.
“It’s a tough loss for the family that I was a part of as a young kid, the Shattuck-St. Mary’s hockey family,” Toews said. “He was very influential to the young hockey players there and to myself and my family, it made things very easy and my comfortable for myself and my brother when we played hockey there.
“He had so many great stories and one-liners and just advice he’d give to the young guys in high school there. If you were ever going through a tough time or you weren’t playing well or you were having a tough time being away from home, he would always seem to have a way to pick you up.”
“J.P. was a very selfless person, and you see that in the way Zach carries himself on and off the ice as a player.”
Zach Parise, 30, went on a Lake of the Woods fishing trip with his dad last summer.
“Just him and I for two days on a boat,” Zach said in September. “Hopefully he lives for 20 more years, but I want to spend as much time with him. Things happen for a reason, and with [Ryan Suter and I] deciding to come back here and play for the Wild, I can’t imagine if I was playing somewhere else and he was going through this. It would be horrible.”
Suter, a standout defenseman who joined the Wild and signed an identical contract with Zach Parise, lost his father, Bob, to a heart attack in September.
“We actually talked about that probably two weeks ago when he knew his dad wasn’t doing that well,” Suter said. “We said at least the good thing that we got to be here, just think if we would have signed other places, they wouldn’t have got to come to as many games as they did get a chance to come to. We actually talked about that and looking back that’s the best thing that’s happened to me.”
In April after Chuck Fletcher found out J.P. was diagnosed with cancer, the Wild general manager gave “Jeep” his own father-son trip. He traveled on the Wild’s charter to games at Arizona, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“My greatest memory was when he came on the trip last year and we’d have him come into the coaches’ room,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “I love being around former players like that. To hear him talk about the memories and how great that was for him. A lot of things have changed in the game, but [not] the camaraderie, the brotherhood. It was a great experience for him.”
In Arizona, Zach Parise scored twice, including his 239th goal to pass his father’s career goal total. Afterward, the two took a joyous picture from the bench.
“Every kid’s dad is their role model, but it goes beyond that with him,” Zach Parise said in September. “It’s so much more. The life lessons he taught me have been unbelievable.”
Here’s one of the biggest.
“Ray Cullen was my best friend on the North Stars,” J.P. told the Star Tribune in September. “Him and I used to play cribbage on the plane. This one time, we’re taking off, and the stewardess said, ‘Can I get you something to drink?’ I gave her some wisecrack answer, you know, not nice.
“Ray Cullen, my best friend, waits ’til she’s gone and says to me, ‘Why do you have to be such a jerk?’ I said, ‘What?’ He goes, ‘Why do you have to be such a jerk?’ I am totally shocked. I said, ‘I’m not a jerk.’ He says, ‘Yes, every time you turn around, you look at people, you always have to come up with some wisecrack jerk answer, so you’re a jerk.’ I look around and look at myself and start to have an inside look.
“I mean, I could have destroyed him in one slap. But those words changed my life. I became the person I am today because he had the guts. From that day on, not that I was ever perfect, but my attitude took a 99 percent turn. He told me to shape up and I became a pretty good guy. So that’s the story about me. Not many people have a good friend like that.”