Hard work, determination and character have all been used to describe Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise’s style of play on the hockey rink. They are the qualities handed down from his father, J.P. Parise, who passed away Wednesday after a battle with lung cancer at the age of 73. Of all the outpouring tributes from the hockey community, for those who never got a chance to see the former Minnesota North Stars forward play, it might be Zach’s resolve on the ice, and his humility off it, which best conveys J.P.’s legacy.
“A friend of mine that played for him, yesterday or two days ago, just, the one thing he always said was ‘just be a good guy,’” Zach said. “That’s what he wanted out of Jordan (Zach’s brother) and I. The way he treated people at the rink, the people that work here, his teammates, the staff, I mean everyone. The way he treated people is something that I’ll always remember and that the small things like that make an impact on people.
“He did a lot of that.”
Zach returned to the ice today for Wild practice and spoke about his father. It was the first time skating since Tuesday, as the forward has been with family during his father's final hours.
J.P. and Zach bonded over the game of hockey, so it has been a taxing season for the forward and his family. J.P. was diagnosed with lung cancer last year and had been in hospice care since Jan. 1.
“Not only the last few days, but the last probably month has been really hard,” Zach said.
At the urging of his wife, Alisha, the Wild forward returned to the rink to try and get a sense of normalcy back in his life.
“I think, last night just watching the game, and finally my wife told me you have to go to the rink and practice and get away and try and get back into the groove of things,” Zach said. “You could sit at home and sulk, but I know my dad probably would’ve been mad at me for skipping the San Jose game and he probably would’ve been mad at me for not playing last night, too. So it was important for me to get back.”
The forward plans on returning to the lineup when the Wild hosts the Central Division leading Nashville Predators at 1 p.m. tomorrow at Xcel Energy Center. He is also expected to travel with the team as it begins a three-game road trip starting on Sunday in Chicago. The family is making arrangements for services next Friday. With Zach on the road with the team, Jordan will be at home with their mom.
For Zach, signing with the Wild and being close to home turned out to be a blessing. The Minnesota native was able to spend time with his father and family as J.P. underwent a yearlong battle with cancer.
“As hard as it has been the last year, seeing what he’s had to go through, if we weren’t here to be with him and support him, that would’ve been a nightmare,” Zach said. “We did get to spend a lot of great time with him, so those are the things that end up meaning a lot and we’ll always remember.”
The 30-year-old also has had the support of his Wild teammates. Defenseman Ryan Suter, who signed a matching 13-year contract with Minnesota on July 4, 2012, lost his father earlier this season.
“Ryan told me things that he wasn’t able to do because he lost his dad so suddenly— all the time he would say stay home from practice and spend time with him. Spend as much as time with him as you can,” Zach said. “The whole team was incredible.”
Suter said that coming to the rink was a cathartic experience—a way to focus on something other than feelings of loss and sorrow. His teammates and coaching staff want to help the wing in any way possible.
“I hope we can offer some kind of, whether it’s a distraction or help, whatever we can call it, anything to help the process of him getting through this,” Wild Head Coach Mike Yeo said. “At the same time I know with Zach, even though his heart and his mind is obviously on dealing with this terrible thing, I know that he will pour his heart and soul into helping our hockey team win. That’s just the kind of character he is.”
The game might be a way for Zach to grieve, but also remember and pay tribute to his father. However, it will be the things away from the rink that the son will reminisce upon the most fondly.
“Hockey was a very big part of it, but hockey’s not everything,” Zach said. “There was way more to the relationship that he had with me and mom and with my brother. It wasn’t all about hockey. The way he cared about his family and just to see how happy he was around his grandkids, it was pretty special.”