Zach Parise’s Olympics: Stepping Up, Stepping Out

The New Jersey Devils have a team-first, no-stars philosophy that has carried the team as they rebuilt their blue line corps through the last few years, rough years after the retirement of Scott Stevens and Ken Daneyko and the departure of Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski.  Patrik Elias has been the standout forward, the go-to guy for some years now, but somehow through illness and injury has never reached that superstar status.  Marty Brodeur stands alone as the team’s reigning Superstar.  That is all about to change.

Team USA World Cup Roster
(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Zach Parise, with his boyish good looks, natural charm and enviable work ethic, is slowly emerging to an elevated status few players ever attain.  A prolific goal scorer, Zach makes one think of Canadiens’ Yvan Cournoyer with his quick hands, great foot speed and sniper-like wrist shot.  Watching him as he wheels out from behind the net to pick the top corner over the goalie’s shoulder with either his precise backhand or a sharp straight-up flick of the wrists, fans can only compare him with some of the best scorers of all time.  His teammates on the Devils have dubbed him “the hardest working player in hockey.”  They will point to the extra effort he has put into his game, to the practices, to the perfection of his moves, to the innate talent that has elevated him to the elite level of NHL forwards.  The final step in his coming-out party could be his appearance in the upcoming Olympics for Team USA.  Since he thrives on competition much is expected of him in the coming weeks.

Zach’s father, J.P. Parise, instilled that work ethic in his son at a very young age.  As the head of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s Hockey Program at that high school in Faribault, Minnesota, J.P. made available to Zach access to infinite ice time, the best possible instruction and a sheltered atmosphere far from the temptations of big-city living. Zach starred for Shattuck in his high school days, scoring 162 points (69 goals/ 93 assists) as a junior and 178 points (77/101) as a senior.  “Work hard, good things will happen” paid off for young Zach.  When asked in a recent interview how he had become such a powerful, quick skater he replied, ” I went to high school in Faribault, Minnesota and college in Grand Forks, North Dakota.  Skating was the only thing we could do for fun.”

Shattuck-St. Mary's
Shattuck-Saint Mary’s has been preparing NHL hopefuls for quite a while now.

At the University of North Dakota, Zach had a sterling freshman year.  In 39 games he had 61 points as well as playing in the Junior World Cup for Team USA where he had four goals and four assists in seven games.  That June he was drafted by the Devils in the first round, 17th overall.  After just two years at UND the Devils called him in to sign for the pros.  As fate would have it, that became the year of the lockout and Zach spent that whole season honing his skills in the AHL with the Albany River Rats.

Zach & Fan 2005

The following year he made his NHL debut, impressing not only the veteran hockey people throughout the league but also a legion of young female fans who sported Devil red jerseys with his name and number emblazoned on the back.  The new league, the new rules, the new need for speed played right into Parise’s hands.  With a game based on hustle and hard work he fit neatly into the Devils roster.  While Gomez, Elias and Gionta formed the dominant line Zach scored his share of goals, killed his share of penalties and perfected his scoring touch. In only his second year in the league he hit the thirty goal mark with 31 and followed that with 32 goals and a plus/minus of 13 in 2007-2008.

2008-2009 was the breakout year.  Paired with Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner, Zach scored 45 goals, third highest in the league, played in the All-Star game and earned a brand new long term contract.  Coach Lemaire assigned him the assistant captain role in the fall of 2009, amplifying the maturity the Devils’ organization sees in him.

This year he has continued to grow. In 55 games Parise has 25 goals (10th in the league), 32 assists and 246 shots on net, second only to Alex Ovechkin. His plus/minus is a positive 26 (5th in the league).

As the Olympics descend on us with all the strum and drum of the international hockey press, world-wide TV coverage and the intense spotlight hockey gets during those two weeks, watch for this young man to step up and show his true colors.  No stranger to international play, Zach Parise is being given his chance to write himself a little history.  We wish the hardest working player in hockey a fine tournament.

He deserves to be there.

Zach & Fan /KRH