It’s been almost seven years since Zach Parise left the New Jersey Devils for the Minnesota Wild, signing a monster 13-year, $98 million dollar deal. The fans haven’t forgotten, booing him every time he touches the puck or his name is announced. He expects it. He understands the fans loyalty to the team, and he’s totally okay with it. Following his last visit to the Prudential Center on Feb. 9 Parise even found a way to joke about it.
“I was expecting it. It’s been that way ever since (I left). You have that ability to tune it out,” the now 34-year-old Parise said a 4-2 Minnesota victory. “(Viktor) Rask was asking me on the bench, ‘why are they booing you every time you touch the puck?’ I told him it’s a long story. But they’re loyal fans so I was expecting it. From what I heard it wasn’t as bad as Kovy (Ilya Kovalchuk) the other night,” he added, grinning from ear-to-ear.
Parise has now been with Minnesota (seven seasons) longer than he was with New Jersey (six). When a member of the Wild media suggested that he’s not getting booed as loud as teammate Ryan Suter still does in Nashville, Parise couldn’t hide his smile. “Maybe they’re starting to warm up a little bit, I don’t know,” he said with a laugh. “I was expecting it, I know it’s coming and that’s okay.”
A lot has changed in New Jersey since his departure on July 4, 2012, when he and Suter decided to sign identical deals in Minnesota. The front office has been overhauled, and so has the team on the ice. When Parise suits up for Minnesota to play a game in Prudential Center these days, it’s just like playing any other team. It wasn’t always that way, but now it is. “Yeah. That first couple of years it was tough. It was so many of your buddies (over there) and that was tough, coming in here and playing a game against them,” he said. “Now it’s just those two guys, they (the Devils) have their own thing going on and it’s a completely different look than when I was here.”
Those two guys are Andy Greene and Travis Zajac, who was Parise’s linemate, road roommate, and close friend. They are the only two players left on the Devils current roster that Parise called a teammate in New Jersey.
“I do still keep in contact with him,” he said of Zajac. “I’ll probably go out and say hi to him (after this). It’s just him and Greene now; it’s always weird playing against them. Travis is a great player and I really enjoyed playing with him on a line. It’s still, it’s still a little weird playing against him,” he added smiling.
Another player he was close with, Adam Henrique, was traded last season but as Parise mentioned earlier it’s a new look Devils these days. “I don’t remember where I was, but I was surprised,” he recalled about hearing of the Henrique trade to the Anaheim Ducks. “But I think when you get a new GM it’s a new set of eyes and they want to do their own thing in how they believe a team should be built. From the players to the staff – it’s totally different (in New Jersey now). I feel like everybody is gone from when Lou was here. That’s what happens, people want to bring their own people in.”
Before he left for the St. Louis Blues to play and work in the front office Martin Brodeur was a teammate of Parise’s and he’s back in New Jersey now (where he belongs). Parise suggested that the legendary goaltender should’ve been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame immediately upon retirement and that practicing with Brodeur every day for six seasons made him the player that has him approaching 400 goals and 800 points in his NHL career.
“I’ll always say he is the best that ever was. For me personally, it’s cool thinking back to how many of the records and milestones (that he set) that I was on the ice for, things that I was there to see in person,” Parise said when asked about Brodeur receiving the call from the Hall. “The best thing about him was that he always challenged me as a shooter in practice. I really believe that he made me a better shooter with how competitive he was (all the time). By default, he has to wait X amount of years to get into the HHOF, but he should have been in right after he retired. It was great to see him get that honor this year.”
In the Wild’s 4-2 win over the Devils Parise netted a power play goal, the first time he had scored a goal in New Jersey as a visitor. He knew that stat without any help from the media too. “It was the first one I’ve gotten since I left here. I was happy about that, it is a tough building to win in; I’m happy we’re getting out of here with a win,” he said.
— Minnesota Wild (@mnwild) February 9, 2019
“I always like coming back here. Playing here, coming back here always brings back a lot of really good memories, a good part of our lives. It was good for us to get this win, it’s never easy coming in here and getting a win; I’m glad we got those two points. It was a good afternoon for us today.”
Minnesota has had some major players succumb to injury this season – first, it was defender Matt Dumba, who was off to a blazing start and more recently they lost captain Mikko Koivu for the season. Parise believes they have the players to overcome the losses as long as they do it collectively and not one guy tries to do it alone.
“It’s going to have to be group efforts from now on (to offset losing Koivu),” said Parise, who is on pace for his best season since 2014-15. “We lost Dumba at the beginning of the year which was tough for us and now we lose Mikko, and he’s so important to our team. We called up (Joel) Erikkson Ek a couple of games ago and he has a couple of goals, he’s played really well for us on both sides of the puck so with him here, it’ll be a group effort to pick up the slack in Koivu’s absence. That’s what we’ll have to do.”
A key piece is centerman Eric Staal, who could be traded before the deadline as a pending UFA. After many battles in the east coast when Staal was in Carolina and Parise in New Jersey, the two have been teammates for the past three seasons and Parise hopes that continues beyond the trade deadline and beyond the summer.
“It’s been great,” he said of being teammates with his former enemy. “He is an awesome guy, just a really good human. He’s played great for us and I’m hoping that he’ll stay. I know there’s a lot of (trade) talk swirling around, but I’m hoping for us that he’ll stay. He’s a good guy that’s played really well for us.”
The Wild are going to need Parise, Staal, Suter, Eriksson Ek and company to all step up if they are to stay in the Western Conference’s ultra-competitive playoff picture. Since leaving New Jersey following their loss in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final, Parise’s teams in Minnesota have made the playoffs every year but have been unable to get out of the second round. The last three seasons have ended in the first round and they’ve only made the second round twice in six seasons.
Perhaps this Wild team will go on a run like the 2012 Devils did as a 6-seed, or maybe they’ll have another first-round exit. Wherever they go, for better or worse, Parise will be there giving it his all as he always does.