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Beginning of the road

by Staff Writer / Montréal Canadiens

MONTREAL – Tom Parisi is ready to embark on the next stage of his hockey career.

Just hours after the 22-year-old defenseman and his fellow Providence College Friars were eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Regional Finals in Worcester, MA, Parisi agreed to terms on a two-year, two-way contract (2016-17 and 2017-18) with the Canadiens on Saturday afternoon – in addition to a 25-game amateur tryout deal with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps – that will keep him plying his trade with Sylvain Lefebvre & Co. through the end of the season.

It’s an opportunity for the Commack, NY native to get his first taste of the pro ranks coming off a productive four-year stint in Rhode Island that included helping the Friars claim their first NCAA title in school history last season.

“It’s a dream come true. The past four years have been an unbelievable ride. We’ve been able to accomplish so many different things together in Providence. But, to be able to take the next step, especially with such a storied franchise behind me like the Montreal Canadiens, is really special. I’m so excited to get the ball rolling,” said Parisi, who joined the IceCaps on Monday in Toronto and made his pro debut on Tuesday night against the Marlies.

The 5-foot-11 and 195-pound rearguard attended the Canadiens’ Development Camp last July on a try-out basis, which means he’s already familiar with Lefebvre and other members of the IceCaps’ coaching staff. Given the steep learning curve that awaits him in the coming months, that can only help to ease Parisi’s transition along as he works to take his game to new heights in Newfoundland.

“Playing in St. John’s is going to be a tremendous experience and I’m going to do everything I can to make a good first impression. I was around the staff last summer in Brossard, but to really get to know them and have them teach me more about the areas I have to work on going forward is huge. It’s also a good chance to get used to my new home,” said Parisi, who put up 12 goals, 55 points and a plus-46 differential in 144 regular season games on the Friars’ blue line.

Veteran Friars bench boss Nate Leaman says Parisi certainly has the tools to one day earn his place on an NHL roster. His skating ability is particularly strong, according to Leaman, as is his ability to transition the play up the ice.

“Tom’s skating is pretty dynamic. He can beat guys with his first step. He can really explode with the puck up the ice. He’s a guy who’s going to get you out of your zone and get the forwards the puck when they have speed. He’s got good poise with the puck and great decision-making skills on breakouts. I think that’s what makes him very good at his job,” explained Leaman, who made Parisi one of two captains with the Friars in 2015-16, along with fellow senior Kevin Rooney.

“You love to coach kids who come to the rink every single day and show up and work hard. They want to be there and they want to get better. Those are the guys that you look back on and really respect as a coach. Tom is one of those guys who responded and did everything we asked of him in every facet on and off the ice. He was an outstanding representative,” added Leaman, who also coaches goaltending prospect Hayden Hawkey in Providence, and used to mentor Habs young gun Daniel Carr during his freshman campaign at Union College in 2010-11.

Likewise, Parisi credits Leaman with providing him with the right kind of guidance to one day make his NHL dreams a reality.

“He just kind of developed me in the later part of my career as a college player to be ready to contribute at the next level. He pushed me hard, making sure to get the best out of me. In the end, I think it worked out for the both of us,” said Parisi, who will graduate with a finance degree on May 15. “Wearing a letter meant so much because I worked so hard from the moment I set foot on campus. Coach Leaman and my teammates put so much faith in me. We’ve had a great relationship.”

Photo Credit: Vincent Éthier / RDS

Going undrafted, says Parisi, really was a blessing a disguise. It afforded him the opportunity to grow both academically and athletically at an institution that boasts a solid reputation in the classroom and a winning culture on the ice, one that includes three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Fortunately, Parisi got to experience it all.

“I was kind of a late bloomer, to be honest. The fact that I wasn’t drafted gave me more motivation to work harder because in life there isn’t anybody pushing you harder than yourself. If anything, it was extra motivation to prove people wrong and make them realize that they made a mistake. I just tried to focus on what I could control and get better every day I was at the rink,” said Parisi, who scored two of the biggest goals in program history last season, notching the game-winning goal against the University of Denver in the East Regional, before scoring the game-tying marker in a 4-3 come-from-behind win over Boston University in the NCAA championship game.

A fan of the New York Rangers and Hall-of-Famer Brian Leetch growing up on Long Island, Parisi has been paying close attention to the way a pair of Canadiens blue-liners have been going about their business for years. Both P.K. Subban and Andrei Markov have been role models for the IceCaps’ No. 5, who really is on cloud nine these days.

“P.K. is such a great skater and playmaker. I’ve watched Markov pretty closely over the last couple of years. He’s a very smart player. He always makes the right decisions. I can learn something from each of them,” concluded Parisi. “This is just an opportunity. I want to be the best player I can be. I want to attain the highest level. I just want to prove what I can do.”

Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.

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