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Parise shines without the spotlight

by Dave Lozo /
The summer of 2010 will be remembered in hockey circles for a high-scoring New Jersey Devils left wing suddenly receiving endless amounts of well-deserved media and fan attention.

And Zach Parise spent plenty of time reading all about him.

"I'd check everyday to find out what’s going on and all of a sudden it goes silent for about three weeks," Parise said. "'Did we lose him?' You don't know what's going on here. It was almost to the point of, 'Let me know when you got him, let me know when it's done, then I'll tune back in.'"

Of course, Parise was talking about the endless cycle of stories about the free agency and contract status of left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who re-signed with the Devils in what was the biggest story of the offseason. It's not that the 26-year-old Parise feels he deserves more attention -- as a matter of fact, it takes prodding and some slight begging just to get Parise to discuss his on-ice talents and status in the League -- but as the four-time 30-goal scorer enters his sixth season in the NHL, his name isn't a household one.

As a matter of fact, Parise might be even further off the grid now that he's the "other" left wing on the Devils behind Kovalchuk.

"I think he's flying under the radar a little bit," said Devils defenseman Henrik Tallinder, who spent eight seasons with the Buffalo Sabres before signing with New Jersey in July. "For the work he puts in, I've never seen a guy work that hard. Even in practice. Yeah, maybe he should get more attention. Maybe he's not that flashy kind of player. He picks up the points and works hard every night. I think he should be up there, definitely."

While Parise may not be up there with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby and Kovalchuk in terms of star power and notoriety, he's certainly up there when it comes to production. Parise has scored 83 goals the past two seasons and trails only Ovechkin (106), Crosby (84) and Kovalchuk (84) in that category. Parise is also just one of six players to average at least a point per game while playing in at least 70 games in each of the past two seasons.

Yet when it comes to endorsement deals, there's no comparison. Ovechkin was on the cover of NHL 2K10 and has appeared in advertisements for Capital One bank and Verizon. Crosby has lent his image to Reebok and Gatorade. Even Capitals defenseman Mike Green has found himself in ads for Geico.

Parise does have an endorsement deal to his credit, but Rydell Automotive Center in Grand Forks, ND, isn't exactly the same as a major sneaker and skate company.

"I've always bought my cars from them," said Parise, who played his college hockey at the University of North Dakota. "They've been nice enough over the last few years to let me use one during the season. So we've got a pretty good working relationship where I do a commercial or two for them."

Considering Parise's Olympic heroics, it's not too far-fetched to say he could've found himself on the cover of a Wheaties box if the gold-medal game had gone a little differently. The native of Minneapolis scored with 24.4 seconds remaining in regulation to bring the United States into a 2-2 tie with Canada and force overtime. But Crosby went on to play hero for Canada and steal Parise's short-lived spotlight by scoring 7:40 into overtime against Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller, who already boasted an endorsement deal with AMP Energy before getting noticed by fans during the 2010 Games.

But as long as Parise hears his name mentioned with the likes of Crosby and Ovechkin when it comes to on-ice success and not marketing accomplishments, that's fine by him.

"I just try to consistently play well and when you wind up at the end of the season near the top in points, amongst the top of the scorers, it's a good personal accomplishment," Parise said. "But to be with that group of players, it does mean a lot to me, to be up there with those guys."

With one well-paid, elite left wing already on the roster, there's going to come a time in the near future when Parise will be able to command a similar contract and the headlines that come with it. His deal expires after this season, leaving him one more year as a restricted free agent before being able to test the open market in an unrestricted situation. Did Parise take notice of how Kovalchuk went about signing his big deal with an eye on his own big payday and everything that comes with it?

"Not really," Parise said. "The only way I looked at it is we got a great player, a guy that's going to help us win. You want those players on your team. We'll worry about that when my time comes for all that stuff."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo

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