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Parsons thankful for his long minor-league career

Thursday, 12.11.2008 / 10:00 AM / News

By Shawn P. Roarke - NHL.com Senior Managing Editor

Despite the easily drawn parallels, Don Parsons is no "Crash" Davis.

Davis, played by Kevin Costner in the baseball classic "Bull Durham," was a veteran catcher approaching the record for minor-league home runs without much enthusiasm as he pined for the three-week stint in the major leagues he had experienced many years earlier.

Parsons, a real-life career minor-league hockey player currently with the Bloomington Prairie Thunder of the International Hockey League, is just four goals away from becoming the all-time career leader for goals scored in professional minor-league hockey. Heading into Thursday night's game, the 39-year-old forward has 674 goals in a 17-season minor-league career. The record is 677 by Kevin Kerr.

Parsons could set the record this weekend during home games against Port Huron and Kalamazoo. He is Bloomington's leading goal scorer this season, with 13 goals in 19 games, and is tied for third in the league, two behind Muskegon's Luke Stauffacher.

"I'm hoping for a big weekend," Parsons said as he made his daily two-hour trek to Wednesday morning's practice.

"I wouldn't change a thing. If you told me we could go back and you could put me in the NHL but the rest of my future had to change, I don't think I would do it."
-- Don Parsons

So what about these comparisons everyone wants to make between Parsons and "Crash?"

"You know, it's funny that you mention 'Crash' Davis," Parsons said. "We were playing against Flint recently and I got into it with a player from their team, a real agitator, and he said to me, 'Parsons, how come every time I play you I feel like I'm in the movie Bull Durham?'

"I'd never really thought of it before, but I can see that. I prefer to think of myself more as Reg Dunlop, though."

Dunlop, memorably portrayed by Paul Newman in "Slap Shot," was the veteran -- read: old -- player/coach of the Charlestown Chiefs that helped lead a down-and-out team to the Federal League championship.

It's fitting Dunlop's fictitious Charlestown was based on real-life Johnstown, as the Chiefs were one of Parsons' 13 career pro stops, as well as where he met his wife, Kristen.

Unlike Davis, who warmed to his nearing of the home-run record slowly and reluctantly, Parsons is embracing the 15 minutes of hockey fame that await him when he scores goal No. 678.

"It's very exciting," Parsons told NHL.com by phone Wednesday morning. "I've accomplished a lot of things in my career, but to be a part of hockey history is pretty cool.

"The league and the team have done a good job of tracking the record on their Web sites and it's pretty cool to be able to show my three kids that I'm on there and I'm going to be a part of history."

The three children -- 8-year-old Abby, 6-year-old Maggy and 5-year-old Maddox -- and his wife have been an integral part of Parsons' success. He knows it will be special to reward his family with the record for the sacrifices it has made.

"I tell everyone that when I met my wife 12 or 13 years ago, that I told her it was my last year playing hockey," he says, starting to chuckle. "I told her you just have to follow me on the road for one year and then we'll settle down. I might have fudged the details a little bit."
"I tell everyone that when I met my wife 12 or 13 years ago, that I told her it was my last year playing hockey. I told her you just have to follow me on the road for one year and then we'll settle down. I might have fudged the details a little bit."
-- Don Parsons
But he never has fudged his passion for the game, and his passion to be part of a team -- even when that passion has made things harder than they needed to be.

Parsons knows how the impetuousness of youth almost derailed his hockey career before it could gather steam. In his rookie season, with the ECHL's Nashville Knights, Parsons had 27 goals and 61 points in 60 games.

Not surprisingly, he thought he was on his way to bigger and better things. But the expected American Hockey League contract never materialized. Angry and disappointed, he walked away from the game.

"Like any young kid, I thought I was above the game," he said. "I think that opened my eyes to how much the game meant to me."

He returned after a one-season hiatus, literally having to beg his way on to the roster of the ECHL's Tallahassee Tiger Sharks. Since then, he never has taken the game for granted, even though he has enjoyed just four games in the AHL, the highest level of minor-league hockey.

Aside from another three games with the previous International Hockey League (which prior to suspending operations in 2001 was another direct feeder league to the NHL) Parsons has spent 1,068 games kicking around the lower minor leagues, with stops in the ECHL, IHL and the United Hockey League.

He harbors no bitterness, though, about the path hockey has taken him.

"I wouldn't change a thing," he said. "If you told me we could go back and you could put me in the NHL but the rest of my future had to change, I don't think I would do it. Because of what I have done, I have my wife and my kids. The life lessons I have learned, I wouldn't want to have to give back."

Again, that attitude is a far cry from "Crash" Davis, who, in Bull Durham, remained intoxicated by his memories of "The Show," the major leagues.
 
Parsons no longer has dreams of the NHL. He is happy playing for the Prairie Thunder. He is happy that his kids can barge into the dressing room after a Saturday night home game and smother him with hugs. He welcomes the fitful nights of sleep in the dressing room lounge after returning from road games, a concession he makes because of the two-hour commute home. He is happy he can help his teammates -- some 20 years his junior -- learn the hockey and life lessons that have made him the man he is today.

And he is happy he still can glide down the ice, flick his wrists and watch the red light behind a goalie come to life as he scores yet another goal.

It is that simple individualistic thrill, made all the better by the communal celebration with his teammates, that keeps him plugging along after all of his minor-league contemporaries have been left by the wayside.  

"Obviously the end is near," Parsons said. "I'm not putting a date on it, though. When my body tells me I can't do it any more, that's when I'll quit. But somehow, whatever I do down the line will involve hockey."
Quote of the Day

I don't know how he does it. I don't know how he gets his body parallel with the player and pulls it through his legs like that. I know he's tried it a couple times in practice and it's never worked, so how he does it in a game, it's incredible.

— Capitals defenseman Mike Green on teammate Alex Ovechkin's highlight-reel goal against the Devils on Saturday