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Wild's Parise has more than hockey on his mind

by Dan Rosen's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise:

Zach Parise always figured moving home to Minnesota would have benefits that extend beyond the obvious, such as the 13-year, $98 million contract he signed July 4, 2012. He never imagined one of those benefits would be being close to his father as he fights the toughest battle of his life.

Jean-Paul Parise, Zach's father and a former NHL forward and assistant coach, has lung cancer. He was diagnosed in February, when Zach was playing for the United States in the 2014 Sochi Olympics. J.P. Parise, 72, was told he has two years to live.

The story of J.P.'s illness and how Zach is dealing with it was documented by Wild beat reporter Michael Russo in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune this past Sunday. Zach spoke of his shock and J.P. talked about being positive and staying upbeat as he attacks the disease.

"I am not complaining," J.P. Parise told Russo. "At the end of the day I am still alive. I am still alive, and tomorrow I will still be alive. I am not dying tomorrow."

Zach isn't complaining either. He's coping as best he can.

He talks to his father every day, but that's nothing new since he always has talked to him about hockey every day or two. He feels fortunate he can drive 20 minutes to see his father. And he's staying optimistic that somehow his father can beat the disease enough to live longer than the two years he was given.

"He's been hospitalized for a couple of different things a couple of different times, but the tests he's done have shown that some of the spots are going away," Zach Parise told "So it's been good news that we've gotten, but he still feels crappy physically from the treatment. On the other side we've been getting good news, so it's been good from that part.

"Not that we were never optimistic, but we are optimistic that things are going well."

Parise went into further detail about his father's illness, how it has changed his life, how it can affect him on the ice, and a little bit about the Wild in general in a phone interview with this week.

Here are Five Questions with … Zach Parise:

You had mentioned in the story that appeared in the Star-Tribune that your father's illness and this fight he's in has changed your life. Can you describe some of the ways you have dealt with it and how it has changed your life?

"It definitely changes the way you think about things, your perception on things, just about life in general and your family. It was so shocking for us to find out. You think about it, almost everyone has someone related to them or someone that they know that has been diagnosed with it. But when it happens to your immediate family it's pretty devastating and sad for everybody. There are just a lot of things in life and it changes the way you look at things."

You said you don't want to use your father's fight as motivation to go out and play your best, but in a way for you it is motivation to go out and play your best for him so he can see you do that. What does it mean to you that he's still watching and he can still come to all your games because he lives so close?

"In New Jersey [my parents] could only come out once or twice a year to watch games, and I was proud when they came out. Now I'm fortunate that they can come to all the home games. You never say you'll use this as motivation. That's not right. But I just know he loves watching me play and how much he loves going to the games and being able to watch the games whether it's in person or on TV, so it's really important to me that I try as hard as I can to play my best. I know how happy he gets watching when I do well, when our team does well. I know how happy that makes him. I know how excited he is for the season to start.

"My mom was saying that it's really tough energy-wise for him to leave the house right now. She was saying it's tough for him to go down and get the mail. It just kills everything inside of him, so she said it'll be so good once we start playing again because it'll get him out of the house and how good that will be for him to go somewhere, to go to a game, instead of just sticking around the house."

As you have been coping with this within your family, Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, who you're very close to, lost his father, Bob, suddenly to a heart attack. How much have you two leaned on each other through these difficult times, and how do you do it?

"When Ryan found out what my dad was going through he went right away to [Wild general manager] Chuck [Fletcher] and said, 'We need to bring J.P. on the trip.' It worked out pretty good that we were going to Phoenix, L.A. and Chicago on a six- or seven-day trip. They set it up for him and he came on the flight with us. He was saying that nothing had changed from when he was playing. Yeah, we fly private and that was cool for him to see, but he said it was still similar to when he was playing in the 1970s. He was having a great time with that. Now the devastation with Ryan and their family, with what happened to Bob, it's like I can't imagine what they are going through. The way to deal with it is to be the same for him and be there for him and his family the best we can."

As for the team, the Wild are coming off a good run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, got into the second round. Now there are high expectations. Can you flip this into a positive and give your father something to get up and get energized for this season? What do you think of the team now as you're deep into training camp and the preseason schedule?

"I think it's looking pretty good. It's important for us to not get ahead of ourselves with how well we were playing at the end of the season last year and to just expect to play well and start winning games right away at the beginning of the season. Every team in our division got better in the offseason. It's important to remember what we did and how we played, but if you remember at the end of the season we were fighting for a playoff spot, going back and forth, so it's not as if we coasted into the playoffs. We can't be comfortable just because we played well at the end of last season."

Save for an injury, you rarely had to worry about a goaltending issue in New Jersey because of Martin Brodeur. You don't have stability at that position in Minnesota. How does it affect you and the team to know there is uncertainty at that position heading into the season?

"Surprisingly, with what we went through last year in almost the same situation, we handle it really well. I think we play a good style. We don't give up too many quality opportunities per game. We play good team defense, and last year we were able to play four or five goalies and still make it [to the playoffs]. It's almost to the point where you're not surprised by anything anymore. We handle it by knowing we still have Nik [Backstrom] and Darcy [Kuemper], who is going to be a really good goalie. We saw how well Bryz [Ilya Bryzgalov] will play for us at the end of last season. We've got confidence in all three of them. Whoever is playing for us, we feel comfortable with all three of them in the net."


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