By Larry Wigge
To some he just where the captain's 'C' for the New Jersey Devils. To others Zach Parise is built of relentless hard work ... something he says he gained a little insight into that from his dad.
"My dad wasn't flashy as a player, he wasn't a superstar, he just played hard every night and I think I kind of inherited that trait from him," Zach said. "He always told me you have to work harder than the next guy ... and then show how hard you work the next time and the next time."
J.P. Parise was a pretty smart man, who for starred for 14 seasons in the NHL and played a gritty, hard-working style.
"If you see the way he deflects pucks and picks up garbage goals, these are all things he practices on his own and it really pays off for him," the elder Parise said. "But I did tell him, 'One of the things you can always control is to be one of the hardest-working players on the team.' "
Blood and sweat are keynotes to Zach Parise's game. When he isn't a good night, he works harder. Something his New Jersey Devils teammates pick up on.
On Wednesday night Parise had only one assist on the scoreboard. But it was a perfect setup of Ilya Kovalchuk ... and he was his relentless self, checking the New York Rangers into submission 3-2 to even their Eastern Conference title series at one game apiece.
"That's what he is doing. He is the hardest-working guy, and that's just him being himself,"
Kovalchuk explained. "His game is courage," Kovalchuk said. "He's got a great shot, but he's always in those spots where you score the goals. He's our leader all the way."
"He’s the heartbeat of our team, I’ve said that all year," first-year New Jersey coach Peter DeBoer said. "He sets the tone for us. He leads and everyone follows. When your captain is your hardest-working player, he drags people with him and it’s a great situation to be in as a coach."
Now, you clearly get the picture of this left winger from Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is more than just a run-of-the-mill player. He has topped out at 45 goals and 49 assists for 94 points in 2008-09. In his seven-year NHL career, Parise had also scored 30 goals or more four times, including this year when he had 31 goals and 38 assists.
But in his first extended stay in the playoffs, Zach has had four goals and five assists in 14 games -- and he lead the playoffs in shots with 56.
He is a graduate of the famous Shattuck St. Mary's program in Minnesota and two years at North Dakota before he was chosen with the 17th overall selection in the first round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.
Don't let the fact that he is just 5-ll, 195 pounds fool you -- he is a true NHL power forward by any sense of the word. Just like his father, he is a gritty heart and soul player.
Former Toronto coach and U.S. Olympic coach Ron Wilson was asked recently what he like about Parise.
Ron Wilson was asked this morning what he likes about Devils' star forward Zach Parise.
"An American passport," was his quick retort.
He went on to talk about the 27-year-old Parise, thusly, "He's got a real hunger and drive for the net. He doesn't appear to be a really big guy yet he goes to the net as hard as any forward I know in the game. He's got great hands."
Parise says patience with the puck and maturity have come along with experience.
"Year by year, I think I'm a little more patient with the puck," he said. "I think I'm making better decisions, and that goes with being more comfortable. Your first couple of years, you don't want to make mistakes, but then you get more comfortable, want to try different things, different moves."
Tip-ins, redirects, poke-ins, wrist shots from close in -- Parise has spent hundreds of hours before and after practice working on just these things. That describes Zach to a 'T.'
"He's a coach's player," former New Jersey and Calgary coach Brent Sutter said. "He's someone you love to coach because, every day, he does what's asked of him. He leaves it all out there. He works his tail off game in, game out, practice in, practice out. He's the first on the ice, the last one off.
"He's just one of those guys that you love to coach because you know what you're going to get from him every day."
Like the Sutters, Zach has a true bloodline to live up to. Even though he wasn't a star, J.P. played a key role in the 1972 Summit Series against the Russians. There's always a role to play.
"I grew up in Niagara Falls and watched his dad play," said David Conte, the executive vice president of hockey operations and director of scouting for the Devils. "I really admired him as a player. I remember when [Canada] took him for the '72 Summit Series team over more higher-profile guys because of his ability to win. I think he's bred that into Zach.
"I think hockey-playing fathers are usually very good because they understand how precarious the game is and how you're only as good as yesterday, and they usually keep a level footing. I think J.P. does that for Zach."
Conte continues, "With Zach, what you see today is what you always see -- 100 percent tenacity with an exceptional skill level. That's a tough combination not to succeed with."
You see, Zach Parise is a chip off the old block in every way.