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Parise hopes to earn spot on U.S. Olympic roster

by Mike G. Morreale
Long before New Jersey Devils forward Zach Parise began setting the stage for what is becoming quite an NHL career, he was learning to deal with heartache and despair.

Would he ever crack a roster spot in organized hockey was the dominant question at the start Parise's career?

"My brother (Jordan) started out as a forward for the first two years that we were playing organized hockey and he was making the team as a forward and I was getting cut, so it was frustrating," Parise said.

Funny what a little confidence and perseverance can do for the psyche.

Today, not only is Zach considered one of the NHL's elite forwards, but he's out to prove he's among the top 23 American players in the game. The 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver are a year away, and for the Minnesota native, it's the opportunity of a lifetime.

"I think about earning a roster spot on the USA National Team a lot," Parise said. "I always wanted to play in the Olympics and always wanted to represent my country. I've thought about it more after our road trip to Vancouver in January. You can already feel the excitement there and the buildings are going up in anticipation of the large crowds. I just hope I'm a part of it. I really think the USA will have a good team this year."

Internationally, Parise played for the United States in the 2003 and '04 World Junior Championships and was named tournament MVP in 2004 when the Americans earned a gold medal. Last year, he posted 5 goals and 8 points for the United States at the World Championship in Halifax.

Parise was also a member of the United States Development Program in 2001-02.

Parise's father, J.P., spent 14 seasons in the NHL with Boston, Toronto, Minnesota, the Islanders and Cleveland and also represented Canada at the 1972 Summit Series against the USSR.

One thing's for sure, the family patriarch made a lasting impression on both Zach and Jordan.

"I grew up in that hockey-family atmosphere, where there were pictures all around from the North Stars to Team Canada," said Parise. "Dad taught me a lot about the game and what it takes to get to this level and there's no question he's been the biggest influence on me."

Growing up in Bloomington, Parise and his brother always had something to do.

"We played on outdoor rinks all the time," Parise said. "The closest thing you can get to the excitement and fun in playing in Canada is playing in Minnesota. The passion the players and fans have for the game there is outstanding. The Minnesota high school tournament is always held in front of 20,000 people at Xcel Energy Center.

"It was a tragedy when the North Stars left but it was great when they brought in another team there. You grow up playing on the outdoor rinks and, because of that, grow up loving the game."

Parise played three seasons of varsity hockey at Shattuck-St. Mary's in Minnesota before spending two seasons at the University of North Dakota, along with his brother Jordan, where he totaled 49 goals and 116 points in 76 career games. He was New Jersey's first-round choice (No. 17) in the 2003 Entry Draft.

At every level he's played, Parise has always leaned on the experiences and wisdom of his father.

"I remember he would never really talk hockey to us after a game unless we wanted to talk and he's still the same way," Parise said. "In his eyes, when a game is over, it's over. We never really got too high after a win or too low after a loss."

He's currently fifth in the NHL with a career-high 67 points, including 34 goals in 55 games with the Devils and seems to have found incredible chemistry with linemates Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac.

"Travis is having a breakout year as well and Jamie has been such a leader," Parise said. "We're getting more scoring chances and we're all feeding off each other, which really makes the game so much easier. Now that I'm in my fourth season, I'm so much more comfortable with my role; I'm able to try things and make plays that I probably wouldn't have done a few years ago."

You have to wonder if Parise is actually trying something new these days. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound wing is on the verge of becoming the first player in franchise history to score 50 goals in a season.

"Any player in the League would like 50," Parise said. "But I don't keep thinking every day that I have to score in order to reach 50 goals. You don't want to get caught up in that. There's a reason the team is where it is right now and I have no intention of changing anything in my game; I'll keep playing the way I've been."

Quite frankly, that should be good enough.
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