Coming out of the renowned hockey school Shattuck-St. Mary’s in his home state of Minnesota, Zach Parise began his college hockey career at the University of North Dakota beginning with the 2002-03 season.
In his very first game with the Fighting Sioux, Parise scored three goals, becoming only the second freshman to record a hat trick since 1988. During his freshman season at UND, Parise led the NCAA in rookie scoring with 26 goals and 35 assists, and finished eighth in the national scoring race. He captured a number of awards during the season, including being named the WCHA Rookie of the Week on four separate occasions, and WCHA Offensive Player of the Week on one occasion. Following that remarkable first year, Parise was named a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, becoming the only freshman nominated that year and the first UND freshman nominee ever.
Parise was then eligible for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft, prior to which he was ranked as the ninth-best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. Heading into the draft, teams had concerns about his size, but were impressed by his skill and work ethic. At the draft, the New Jersey Devils traded to obtain the 17th overall pick from the Edmonton Oilers and used it to select Parise.
Although he was drafted, Parise opted to return to school for his sophomore season, where along with former Bolts Matt Smaby and Brandon Bochenski, helped the Fighting Sioux to the MacNaughton Cup as the WCHA Regular Season Champions. Parise was named a First Team All-American after the season and was also honored as one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, losing out to eventual winner Junior Lessard. Parise was also named to the All-WCHA Academic Team, and the WCHA All-Tournament Team.
The College Hockey Experience: “It’s wild. We were pretty fortunate at UND to have a great rink and to have 12,000 fans every game screaming and cheering. It was awesome. The crowds were really into the game and they were always excited. Judging by how many people in seats we had and just seeing the enthusiasm, I’d bet money that it was fun to watch.”
Level Of Competition In The College Game: “It’s tough and it’s only getting better. Programs are doing a lot better, they’ve come a long way in terms of weight training and I think the level of coaching has been stepped up as well.
Everyone always says that as a young player the way to go is to play in the major junior leagues, but college hockey has come a long way and it’s just as fun. You see so many different teams now making it into the NCAA tournament, so it’s pretty level but also unpredictable across the whole field.”
College Hockey Rivalries: “It’s crazy. Our arch-rival at North Dakota was Minnesota. So it’s great. You see a lot of people always lining up for a seven o’clock game at three o’clock just waiting to get in. The crowds never stop and it even feels like you’re at a soccer game sometimes. The rivalries are really something and that’s what really makes college hockey so good.”
What Fans Can Expect When They Come To Tampa: “I personally think the fans are going to get a good preview of a lot of first-round picks. These are guys who are not exactly stealing all the headlines up in Canada, but there are some really great players. I think there will be a glimpse of some top-end talent before these kids make it big.”