CHICAGO – Patrick Kane knows it’s coming, but he still gets a chuckle every time Zach Parise skates up to him before a faceoff and says, “What’s up, Darryl?”
“He spilled the beans?” Parise laughed.
Parise’s greeting is an inside joke about the skills coach he shares with Kane. It’s just one of those funny things that link two of the NHL’s best American forwards who, frankly, have little in common yet will clash for a third consecutive year in the postseason starting Friday when the Wild takes on the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
“I could be here all day talking about their differences. I don’t know if they have a whole lot of similarities other than their skill and ability to score goals and make plays,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said about Kane and Parise, the Wild’s top scorer whom Toews knows well because of their similar path to the NHL by way of Shattuck St. Mary’s and the University of North Dakota.
“Kaner’s a little more laid back and goes with the flow. Zach’s the go-getter and task-oriented, the what-can-I-do-next type of guy.”
Off the ice, Parise and Kane have different personalities. On the ice, they have completely different styles.
Parise, 30, is all about work ethic. Every shift, every game — regardless of the score, the effort and tenaciousness from Parise is the same. He never gives up on the puck.
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter said he has never seen a player work as consistently hard as Parise and “that’s why I wanted to be on his team.”
The 26-year-old Kane, a native of Buffalo, N.Y., is all about skill. His shot, his playmaking, his ability to make defenders look foolish are remarkable. He exhilarates fans nightly with his uncanny gift of star-studded moves.
Two very different players, yet the respect Parise and Kane have for each other is abundantly clear.
“I just love watching him play. Love it,” Parise said of Kane. “Sometimes you can go a period, two periods without noticing him, but all of a sudden he takes over a game. He’s got that ability when you’re playing D to almost put you where he wants to put you and then he makes plays out of that. He manipulates the D really well, he manipulates forwards really well.
“You have to keep the puck away from him as much as you can.”
Kane said Parise reminds him of Tazer, aka Toews, the Blackhawks’ heart and soul and one of the sport’s most respected leaders, “the way [Parise] prepares, his attitude, the way he plays the game. The one thing with him, he doesn’t let anyone outwork him to either get the puck back or get to a certain spot on the ice.”
Plus, Kane said, “He’s as down to earth as anyone can be.”
Parise and Kane were locker-stall neighbors at the 2010 and 2014 Olympics and now share the same skills coach, Darryl Belfrey, whose impressive client list includes John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene, Jeff Skinner, Max Pacioretty, Andrew Ladd and Drew Stafford.
Now, Parise and Kane call each other “Darryl” for no good reason at all.
The Islanders’ Okposo, one of Parise’s closest pals, swore by Belfry, so Parise started using him “and it’s been awesome.” What Parise loves about working with Belfry is he learned it “doesn’t always have to be grind, grind, grind.”
“Work ethic, that’s a mind-set with me. It always will be,” Parise said. “But you watch somebody like Kaner, I saw so many more opportunities where I could play with the puck more. That’s where I really saw the benefit working with Darryl. Sometimes it’s good to get rid of the grinder mentality and make plays with the puck, not just always chip and chase and run down pucks in the corner.”
Parise, the Wild’s leading scorer the past three years with 80 goals and 156 points in 188 games, looks at how Kane utilizes his skill and admires it. Since 2009, Kane leads all NHLers with 98 points in 99 playoff games.
“He does this stuff out there that’s incredible. It really is,” Parise said. “It’s funny. Just look at him in the playoffs. Everyone’s just amped up, running around 100 miles per hour, but he’s always just still doing his thing. I think that’s what makes him successful in the playoffs. Everyone’s trying to overcommit, run, run and he just does his thing.”
A shifty guy
If Kane’s not skating past a defender, he’s often lurking in the shadows before suddenly attacking and “boom,” said Parise — not even referring to Kane’s Game 6 overtime game-winner that ended the Wild’s season in the second round last May.
While Parise welcomes contact and often initiates it, Kane has a knack of hiding.
“He can sit there and hold the puck and wait for you,” Suter, explaining what Parise meant by “manipulates the D,” said. “It’s like a goalie on a penalty shot. He wants the shooter to make the first move and then he reacts. For Kaner, it’s the same thing. He’s waiting for that defenseman to come at him and then he goes around him or through them.”
Part of this is why the undersized Kane rarely gets blown up by big hits. Besides the fact that Kane is slippery, defensemen are scared to challenge him because of what Kane may do to them if they try. That’s why it was so shocking when Kane broke his collarbone Feb. 24 on a hit by Florida’s Alex Petrovic. On pace to becoming the first American to lead the NHL in scoring, Kane’s season was stopped in its tracks until Game 1 of the first round against the Nashville Predators.
Kane still finished with 27 goals and 64 points in 67 games. While Kane showed some rust in the first round, Wild coach Mike Yeo knows how much his team better know where he is at all times in the conference semifinals.
“I’m sure he feels there’s probably another step maybe, but from what I’ve seen, he’s as dangerous as ever,” Yeo said.
Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya, who played with Parise in New Jersey, compared Parise and Kane, saying: “Zach just never quits and he’s probably if not the best, one of the best guys around the net finding pucks, getting rebounds, tips, stuff like that. Kaner may be the most skilled guy 1-on-1 in the league.”
Kane, the 2013 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, has won two Stanley Cups. Parise has been to one Stanley Cup Final with the Devils and so badly wants to lead the Wild to one.
This is why he is so relentless about everything he does, not just on the ice, but off.
In the summer, Parise trains with Arizona-based Jay Schroeder and his Minnesota associate, former NHLer Erik Rasmussen. The workouts are no-nonsense, outside the box and exhausting.
“It’s challenging emotionally, intellectually, psychologically, as well as physiologically and most important neurologically,” said Schroeder, who also trains Toews. “Those are all the things that allow for consistently elite performances. Zach is willing to do whatever it takes to be the best he can every day. Zach works hard up until 20 minutes before he leaves for the rink and immediately afterward.
“After a game, he starts working right away. On a plane, he’s working on the plane. Heading home, he eats, does his work and then he goes to bed.”
Parise said, laughing, “It’s hard and unreal. But the way that we train, more so than ever, I physically feel fresh all the time. The whole point of the workout is so you feel as fresh on Game 1 as you do on Game 82.”
Big work ethic
Part of Parise’s regimen is to use Schroeder’s recovery system after games. Schroeder says Parise has no fear to expend everything he has because he trusts that whatever the costs, he will be able to recover afterward.
So while Kane often slows the game down, Parise will still always be, as Toews said, “all-out.”
“For me, that’s what works for me,” Parise said. “Players find things that work for them. I’ve found that’s what works for me. When I don’t have the puck, I want to get the puck. I want our line to have the puck, I want us to create offense. That’s the way I was brought up off the ice with discipline and good work ethic.”
Toews, who knew the late J.P. Parise from his days at Shattuck, said: “I don’t doubt he gets a little bit of that from his father. Zach’s got all the skill in the world, but he’s willing to do all the little things right and he’s always looking for ways to improve his game. That’s what makes him a great player, but also a great playoff performer and why we have to be careful this series.
“He never takes a shift off. He’s always around the net. He’s always bringing energy. He’s always working.
“Just working and working and working.”