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Stadium Series

Parise excited to play outside in Minnesota

First outdoor NHL game in Twin Cities will see Wild take on Blackhawks

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

NEW YORK -- J.P. Parise wouldn't have had to bring his ax to TCF Bank Stadium next weekend, although it's fair to wonder if the late former NHL forward and coach would have anyway. Old habits, you know. 

Fact is, the technology for checking the thickness of ice is, well, a tad more advanced now than it was when Parise's son, Minnesota Wild left wing Zach Parise, was a kid crossing his fingers, hoping the pond near his house was safe enough to skate on. 

J.P., who died from lung cancer last year, always had to check first before the boys could play. 

"We had a pond right next to our house that we'd always walk down to," Zach Parise said. "I always remember my dad would bring the ax down to check if the ice was thick enough and how disappointed we would be if it wasn't." 

You can almost picture it, can't you? If you know hockey in Minnesota, or just outdoor hockey in general, you can almost see J.P., hockey dad, bundled up, ax resting on his shoulder, trudging through the snow down to the pond, chopping the ice as if he were cutting wood for a fire. 

"I don't know what his measurement was, but that's how we would know," Parise said, laughing now. "We were just waiting for the nod, is it good or no? If not, we were out of there. If it was good, he'd shovel it off for us and we'd play. It was awesome." 

There are pros to do that for him now, pros that will help Parise bring back some memories at the 2016 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game between the Wild and Chicago Blackhawks on the campus of the University of Minnesota on Feb. 21 (3:30 p.m. ET; NBC). 

It will be Parise's first outdoor hockey game in the NHL. He gets to play it in his hometown, close to where he grew up and near the pond that he, his brother Jordan, and their buddies used to skate on whenever dad deemed the ice to be safe enough.

"The idea of playing in one is pretty special, and for us to get to do it at home as opposed to on the road, and in a place where hockey is such a part of the culture, for the families, for everyone, I think the whole weekend is going to be a fun time for a lot of people," Parise said. "There's a handful of guys in the same situation as me that grew up in Minnesota, grew up on the outdoor rinks, at the parks. Now it all just comes full circle now that we're playing outdoors in the NHL in Minnesota. It's great." 

The pond near Parise's house, maybe 100 yards away, he said, was one of the places he used to play outdoor hockey. He'd also regularly have practices outdoors at park rinks with his teams. That's life in Minnesota for a hockey-loving kid. They're some of his fondest memories. 

"It was freezing, but it was great," he said. "You didn't care how cold you were, you just went out and played and had fun. Nothing else mattered. Parents were freezing watching us, but we didn't care." 

Parise also grew up around the Minnesota North Stars. 

J.P. was an assistant coach until Zach was 4 years old. The family stayed in Minnesota as J.P. began working at Shattuck-St. Mary's, where Zach and a handful of NHL players, including Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews, eventually would play their high school hockey. 

Parise was an avid fan of the North Stars, a regular at games whenever he and his dad's schedule would allow. 

Mike Modano, Neal Broten, Dino Ciccarelli and Basil McRae were his favorite players. 

He remembers the white and green seats inside Met Center. 

He was there for their last game on April 13, 1993, when fans were tearing out the seats to either keep them as souvenirs or throw them onto the ice in a fit of rage aimed at former owner Norm Green, who moved the franchise to Dallas because of shrinking attendance and no prospect for a new arena. 

"I wish we were going to be wearing the North Stars jerseys or colors [in the Stadium Series game]," Parise said. "That would have been awesome." 

His excitement instead turns to the fact the Wild and NHL are honoring the North Stars next weekend by bringing back former players to form a joint Wild-North Stars alumni team for the 2016 NHL Stadium Series Alumni Game on Saturday. 

"I've been lucky enough to play with Modano in a World Championship and against him, and I've gotten to meet Broten over the years, and [Brian] Bellows," Parise said. "These are guys I would go watch play, and to see them play again will be special. There are so many people in Minnesota, so many fans that connect with the North Stars and they love that era of the North Stars. For them to see those guys again and those colors, it's going to be great." 

A part of him, though, is sad, because Parise knows his father would be a big part of the weekend if he were still alive. 

"I don't know if he would have played," he said. "He probably would have been coaching." 

But a kid -- now a 31-year-old father of two -- can dream. 

"I was talking with my mom about how cool it would have been to have him, to see him throw on the gear, his jersey, and be out there," Parise said. "I would think it would have been pretty special. I know how much he loved it. I know how much he loved being there, being part of the Stars, coaching them. He would have loved this." 

He might have even brought his ax.

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