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Parise looks to join ranks of award winners

by Eric Marin / New Jersey Devils
Parise has already arrived in Las Vegas, the site of Thursday's NHL Awards.

Watch Parise highlights
email – It's just a coincidence that Zach Parise's first trip to the NHL Awards is also the show's first year in Las Vegas, but it's certainly fitting.

Las Vegas is renowned for its world-class entertainment, and Parise's outstanding speed and skill have made him one of the best one-man shows in the NHL.

Parise had a stellar 2008-09, posting 45 goals and 94 points to lead the Devils in scoring. He finished third overall in goals behind Alex Ovechkin and Jeff Carter, and fifth overall in points.

It was a quantum leap forward for the Minneapolis native, who has improved his goals, assists and points totals in three straight seasons with the Devils. Though new to the awards scene, Parise figures to be a regular on the trophy circuit before long. He arrived in Las Vegas on Monday, and will spend the week with family and friends before Thursday's Awards Show (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS).

"It’ll be an eye-opener to see what it’s all about," Parise said Tuesday. "All these other guys, this is about the fourth time they’ve been here. It’ll be pretty fun this first time to see what everything’s all about and just take it all in. It was a great move to take the show from Toronto to Las Vegas; this is a pretty good place to have something like this."

Despite battling night after night against some of the NHL's best defenders, Parise took only 24 penalty minutes in 82 games, two more minutes than Devils' tough guy Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond collected in eight appearances.

So it was little surprise, then, that Parise earned Lady Byng consideration. The award is handed out annually to the player exhibiting the best sportsmanship, and big point totals coupled with low penalty minutes are standard ingredients in the Lady Byng mix.

It's an honor that doesn't quite generate the same buzz as other awards in the NHL stable, but make no mistake about it, the Lady Byng doesn't go to just anyone. Past winners have included some of the greatest talents in NHL history: Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, Brett Hull and Mike Bossy.

"When you’re playing a sport that has a bunch of tough guys, and then you’re up for the award for the most sportsmanlike player, it does get an unfair reputation," Parise said. "But I look through the past winners, and the names on there were at the time some of the best players in the League. It does have a reputation as being a 'nice guy' award, but there’s been some great players that have won it."

Parise will have some stiff competition from the other finalists: Martin St. Louis and perennial favorite, three-time defending Lady Byng winner Pavel Datsyuk.

"If it happens, great, if it doesn't, it’s not a big deal," Parise said. "Either way, it’s going to be a really fun trip. I’m just going to enjoy it. It’s fun to just be down here and go to the Awards Show."

Parise would move into the elite company of award-winning Devils. Martin Brodeur tops the list with four Vezina trophies as top goaltender (2003, 2004, 2007, 2008); four Jennings trophies for fewest goals against (1997 with Mike Dunham, 1998, 2003, 2004); and the Calder Memorial Trophy as top rookie (1994). 

Brodeur was also the Vezina runner-up three times (1997, 1998, 2006).

John Madden won the Selke Trophy for best defensive forward in 2001, and was nominated a fourth time last season, when he finished second to Datsyuk.

Former Devil Scott Niedermayer won the Norris Trophy as best defenseman in 2004, and Scott Stevens was a runner-up to Ray Bourque in 1994. Former Devil Scott Gomez took home the Calder Trophy in 2000.

Ken Daneyko won the Masterton Trophy in 2000 for exemplifying perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey, and former Devils head coach Jacques Lemaire earned the Jack Adams Award as top coach in 1994.

Devils' President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello won the 1992 Lester Patrick Trophy for outstanding service to hockey in the United States. The late Herb Brooks, who coached Team USA's "Miracle on Ice" team in 1980 and served as Devils head coach in 1992-93, received the Lester Patrick in 2002.

Parise believes a puck possession head coach would be an ideal successor to Brent Sutter, who stepped down from behind the Devils' bench on June 9.

"I think we need to play to our strengths, and that’s holding on to the puck and being an offensive, forechecking team," Parise said. "Those are the types of forwards and players that we have, and it’s just my opinion, but it’d be nice to have someone that believes in that type of philosophy."

Parise liked what he saw in this year's postseason, and continued to follow the playoffs after the Devils were eliminated by Carolina in the first round.

"The Final was unbelievable – that was great hockey," Parise said of Pittsburgh's seven-game victory over Detroit. "I think the way those two teams play with puck possession, they play a really good style of hockey. That’s why they’ve been there the last two years."

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