– For Zach Parise
, a hockey dream became a reality Monday at the Seven Bridges Ice Arena when Parise skated alongside Mike Modano
, a childhood hero, during the opening day of Team USA's Olympic orientation camp.
Parise, 25, and Modano, 39, could very well be a part of something special if they're selected to represent the United States at the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver this February.
Modano is one of the few veteran holdovers from past Olympic efforts for Team USA and for good reason says GM Brian Burke
"I think if you asked people to identify the greatest American player ever -- if Mike Modano
's name isn't first, he's definitely the second," Burke said. "Sure, his role has changed and his ice time and power-play time have diminished, but he's accepted that gracefully and still performs at a high level. He's here legitimately -- there was never any debate over bringing him in or if he was over the hill."
"I feel very fortunate and lucky to be thought of at this time, at my age and where my career is," Modano said. "I've tried to be as consistent as possible over my career and be involved as much as I can. I've known Brian (Burke) and (coach) Ron (Wilson) for many years and I really want to make the most of my opportunity here."
Parise, who last skated with Modano at the World Championships during the NHL work stoppage in '05, said having the opportunity to play for Team USA at the Olympics would be an experience of a lifetime. Having Modano there as well would be icing on the cake.
"I think this is going to be a highlight for a lot of guys' careers," Parise said. "You never know if the NHL will be involved in the Olympics in the future, so now's the time and everyone is hoping for that shot to play."
Parise is eager to chat with Modano.
"I haven't spoken to him yet, but I'll definitely do so during the week," Parise said. "I'll pick his brain a little bit and talk about the old (Minnesota) North Stars when my dad (J.P. Parise) was coaching (as an assistant) and he was playing."
Modano said the game has become easier for veteran players around the League since the youngsters are so much quicker today.
"It's kind of easy when you have guys like this because they're fast so you just get them the puck in open ice and they can do a lot of things at a high pace," Modano said. "That part is easy. You just kind of fall in between and find your position and make the easy play so you're not forced to do anything spectacular."
Can Modano play a third or fourth-line role as a checking forward in Vancouver?
"I would just hope there's a little two-way involved in there as well," Modano grinned. "But when you have a lot of talent like this, it's hard not to be effective at both ends. You have guys who can skate and check well. That's something we've always tried to do. We do have some size and kids who move well and some of skilled guys are small and shifty."
Doing what comes naturally has enabled Modano to rack up the most points of any American-born player in NHL history with 1,329 in 1,400 games spanning 19 seasons. Those numbers will only go so far in getting a roster spot this time around.
"We've always had an older team with more experienced players and guys who have been there before," he said. "Now you have a lot of 21-22-23-year-olds, so there's a little adjustment in growing up and what they have to go through.
"It's a weird feeling because it was just yesterday I was a young guy, but now I'm here 15 years older than some of these guys and you can't fathom it but because you don't feel any older," Modano said. "But you certainly do feel old on paper. It's a pretty quiet group and the previous Olympic teams had loud, rambunctious and very opinionated players. Now it's quiet and subdued, so I'll try and get some personality out of them -- it'll come over time."
Modano said Parise, who scored 45 goals and 94 points in 82 games with the Devils last season, is a great impact performer and would be a great addition to this year's squad.
"It's obvious he's developed into a really special player," he said. "He's been really consistent and wants to make an impact every shift of every game and do things very well. You can see that in his work ethic and how he carries himself -- he's a polite, hard-working kid."
Contact Mike Morreale at firstname.lastname@example.org.