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Zach Parise feels ready for World Cup

Wild left wing, recovering from back injury, relishes chance to play for Team USA in September

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

With Zach Parise's recovery from a lower-back injury continuing to progress positively, the Minnesota Wild left wing said he has no doubt he'll be ready to play for Team USA at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 next month in Toronto.

"Not in my mind," Parise said Wednesday, "unless the doctors say something right before we leave with my physical. But I feel like I'll be fine to play."

Team USA reports to training camp for physicals Sept. 4 and begins practicing the next day at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The Americans play their first pre-tournament game there on Friday, Sept. 9, against Canada and play their preliminary round opener on Saturday, Sept. 17, against Team Europe at Air Canada Centre in Toronto (3:30 p.m. ET; ESPN2).

Parise, a two-time U.S. Olympian who has played in the IIHF World Junior Championship and World Championship, is looking forward to representing his country again.

"That's always special," he said. "I hate saying it, but especially where I am in my career as it's going by, you just don't know how many opportunities again you are going to get."

Video: OTT@MIN: Parise jams home rebound with one hand

Parise, who turned 32 on July 28, was unsure about his future when his back injury forced him out of the Wild lineup at the end of last season. He had been playing through pain and numbness in his left leg and foot since January.

Treatment and cortisone injections provided some temporary relief, but his symptoms always returned and then worsened after he took a hard hit from Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks on April 5. Parise missed the remainder of the season, including a six-game loss to the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It was really scary," Parise said. "That's not very comfortable at all, for the longest time, having no feeling in your leg and in your foot. You are kind of wondering, 'When is this going to go away? When is this going to go away?' And one day I woke up and it was good, so it was good after that. But, at that time, it's really scary not feeling anything and really struggling to get out of bed.

"You're like, 'Is this something I'm going to have to live with?' But, so far in August, it's been really good."

Parise was able to avoid surgery and alleviate the pain and numbness through "a lot of physical therapy."

"[The doctors] said a big part of it was me not taking hits, not taking body checks, not physically engaging with someone," Parise said. "They were saying, 'There's no way this can heal unless you stop.' They gave me a little lecture about it."

Parise resumed skating earlier this summer after taking some time off the ice to focus on his physical therapy and has gradually felt more comfortable since then. He even played one game in Da Beauty League in his native Minnesota last month. He would have played in more in the 4-on-4 league if not for scheduling conflicts.

"I'm getting there," Parise said. "I feel much better skating now than I did a month ago. Everything is going well. Training is going well, skating is going well, so, hopefully, it will continue and everything will be all back to normal before we leave for Toronto."

Although the worst of it appears to be behind him, Parise will have to continue to do exercises to prevent further problems with his back.

"This is not one of those things where you finish your rehab and quit," he said "They just don't want something to happen, so I'll be doing a lot of stuff during the season to try to keep the improvement going."

Video: MIN@COL: Parise nets PPG for his second of the game

After the World Cup, Parise will return to the Wild with a new coaching staff headed by Bruce Boudreau and an upgraded roster that added forwards Eric Staal and Chris Stewart in free agency. Parise knows Staal well from playing against him with the New Jersey Devils when Staal was with the Carolina Hurricanes.

Stewart was with the Wild for 20 regular-season games and eight games in the playoffs after being acquired in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres in 2014-15, but he signed with the Anaheim Ducks last season. Parise is glad to have the 6-foot-2, 231-pound right wing back with the Wild.

"When we traded for [Stewart], it made such a difference in our lineup with his size," he said. "We had a pretty small team, so just having that guy made such a difference for us. I think those two guys (Staal and Stewart) are going to be really important for us."

Parise, whose 25 goals led the Wild last season, might end up playing on Staal's line but said that's not something he's talked about with anyone on the coaching staff yet.

"I think that would be great," Parise said of being linemates with Staal. "He's a big guy (6-4, 205) who can skate and control the puck in the offensive zone and a guy that wants to create offense and make plays. So, if we do end up playing together, I think it's something we can make work."

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