Parise's impact as captain felt through Devils' room
NEWARK, N.J. -- Zach Parise's ears were already buzzing, but now his eyes were wide open, too.
Devils center Adam Henrique had just finished talking about how much he has learned in his rookie season from Parise, about how much better of a player he is because of the New Jersey captain, who just happens to be his neighbor in the dressing room.
"It has taken my game to the next level," Henrique was telling NHL.com with Parise standing a mere three feet away fielding questions from other reporters. "It's probably the reason why I'm at the point where I am now. Soaking in all I can from him has helped me tremendously."
Parise never acknowledged that he heard what Henrique was saying.
Maybe he did. Maybe he didn't. Maybe he already knew.
But when told, almost word-for-word, what Henrique actually said, well let's just say Parise was both surprised and satisfied.
"Oh, wow," he told NHL.com, opening his eyes even wider now. "I'm that guy. That's good."
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Now being that guy to young players such as Henrique is surreal and gratifying. It's a sign that Parise hasn't just played in over 500 NHL games at 27 years old; he's had the type of meaningful impact he wanted to have when he got to the NHL and started looking up to his older teammates.
Parise just finished his first regular season as a captain, and by all accounts it was a smashing success. The Devils are in the playoffs as the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference after missing out on the postseason last year. Parise's reputation as being a dogged, determined, fearless winger and team leader is still beyond reproach.
His teammates love him. His coaches appreciate him. If he gets to unrestricted free agency this summer, 29 other teams will covet him.
"He lives up to his reputation, and his reputation is that he brings it to the rink every day and works and leads by example and lives, eats and sleeps hockey," coach Pete DeBoer said when asked what he's learned about Parise in his first season behind the Devils bench. "That's the reputation he has around the League. It's impeccable."
DeBoer always thought it was too good to be true. He found out quickly that he was wrong.
"When you come in you automatically assume this guy can't be that good in all those areas, and he is," DeBoer said. "That's the best way I could put it. There haven't been any surprises, and I guess that's the surprise, that he is as solid as he is in all of those areas."
Parise's next step as captain begins now, with the Devils set to square off against Florida in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Game 1 is Friday at BankAtlantic Center (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US, TSN).
"It's a new season, a new level, and I'm looking forward to having that responsibility in the postseason," Parise said. "It's a little different than it is in the regular season."
The Devils should be just fine as long as Parise handles the transition from regular-season captain to postseason captain the way he handled his transition from average citizen on the team to captain.
He didn't change who he was; he only took on added responsibility.
"That's why the team picked you as a captain; they want you to be yourself," Ilya Kovalchuk, a former captain in Atlanta, told NHL.com. "That's what he is doing. He is the hardest-working guy, and that's just him being himself."
Staying true to himself got Parise through some times this season, both on the ice and off.
"At camp the coaches said to improve my game I should watch Zach and how he plays the game. So, I watched him for the first couple of weeks and once I came back up (from the AHL) and we were put on the same line, you just recognize how hard he plays every shift. That's something I tried to put into my game … and my game started to improve." -- Adam Henrique
His 2010-11 season was cut short due to major knee surgery. Parise had to gain confidence back in his legs, and it took him some time. He struggled early, a likely reason why he had only six goals and five assists in the first quarter of the season (21 games).
"It was hard at the beginning," Parise admitted.
Parise turned it on right around U.S. Thanksgiving and had 29 points in the next 27 games, giving him 40 points at the All-Star break. He became the gritty glue guy on New Jersey's top line with Henrique in the middle and Ilya Kovalchuk on the right side.
Henrique was becoming a Calder Trophy candidate; Kovalchuk was becoming a Hart Trophy candidate.
Parise, though, was becoming the Devils' MVP, an award he eventually did win.
He finished the regular season with 31 goals and 38 assists for 69 points in 82 games.
"His game is courage," Kovalchuk said. "He's got a great shot, but he's always in those spots where you score the goals. He's our leader all the way."
Even through questions about his future in New Jersey.
Parise doesn't have a contract for next season. If it stays that way, come July 1 he will be arguably the most sought-after unrestricted free agent to hit the open market.
He told NHL.com shortly after the All-Star break that he wouldn't mind starting contract negotiations during the season, but he didn't expect it to happen because it's not general manager Lou Lamoriello's style to negotiate with a player while the season is ongoing. Parise never thought he would be traded either, but since he always makes himself available to the media, he always had to field the questions about his contract status.
"It's been easy now, particularly since the trade deadline passed, but also because I just told the guys (the media), 'I've got nothing for you. You can ask me the same question every day, but I am not going to have an answer for you,'" Parise said. "They've been real good about not asking anymore. That's helped a lot. When you're constantly getting asked about it it's going to be there, but now it's the least of my concerns."
It has to be. Parise already has enough on his plate as the captain and leader of a playoff-bound team.
He's that guy.
"At camp the coaches said to improve my game I should watch Zach and how he plays the game," Henrique said. "So, I watched him for the first couple of weeks and once I came back up (from the AHL) and we were put on the same line, you just recognize how hard he plays every shift. That's something I tried to put into my game … and my game started to improve."