Less than a month after the New Jersey Devils’ Game 6 loss in the Stanley Cup Final to the Los Angeles Kings on June 11, 2012, Zach Parise was set to hit the open market of NHL free agency. With the disappointment of the series loss still fresh in his mind, as often the case is in life, he had to look ahead.
“I only had a couple of weeks, so I didn’t really have a choice,” Parise said. “The sting stays with you for a while, but at the same time, it was pretty overwhelming what was coming up, so you have to transition pretty quickly.”
What was coming up would be a whirlwind four days between July 1 and July 4. At the time, the Minnesota native probably couldn’t have predicted the amount of coverage, speculation and intrigue that his free agency would cause, especially in his home state. It was a continuous “will he, won’t he?” tug of war on the State of Hockey’s heartstrings.
Then, while many Minnesotans prepped their grills and cracked cold ones to celebrate our nation’s independence, he and Ryan Suter signed 13-year deals with the Minnesota Wild. The news flashed like fireworks in the night’s sky. One of Minnesota's favorite sons would return, thus, leaving behind the only National Hockey League organization he’d ever known. It was a difficult decision, but the pull of returning home proved too great.
"The opportunity to play at home meant a lot to me, and my family," Parise said the day he signed with Minnesota. "Every kid that's growing up in Minnesota would love to play with the Wild. Now, I'm lucky we were able to make that happen."
When he signed with Minnesota, at the time, he might not have been thinking it, but he’d ultimately have to return to New Jersey and face his old team. Tonight will be the first time that Parise returns to the Garden State to face the Devils. It wouldn’t be surprising if he got a little disoriented on the way to the visitor’s locker room at Prudential Center. Parise spent the first seven years of his career with the Devils, amassing 410 points (194-216=410).
The winger has a load of fond memories from his time spent in the Devils. He said that’s where he learned how to be a professional, work hard day-in and day-out and will always be grateful of his time spent with the organization.
“The best memory hockey-wise was probably going to the Finals that last year,” Parise said. “Any time you’re on a team like that and you go to the Finals it’s special. You remember things like that. It was my last memory, so it’s the freshest, but it was the most fun.”
While going to the Stanley Cup Final was his best, it is also his most painful. The memory is something that he thinks of often. It is also what helps drive him and the desire to return with the Wild.
“Losing when you’re that close, it’s brutal,” Parise said. “It’s so hard to get there you never know when you’re going to get a chance to go back there. A lot of things have to go right; you have to get lucky. You have to have a great team. It is motivating to try as hard as you can because the careers go by pretty quickly believe it or not. You want to get back there and get another crack as soon as you can.”
Parise likes the way that the Wild has progressed since his signing. He said that looking at the difference in the club, over a calendar year, is exciting. Off the ice, returning home was a natural fit and he’s had plenty of things to celebrate on the home front, well, namely two. In January, his wife, Alisha, gave birth to twins, Emelia and Jaxson, the couple’s first children.
“It’s been great,” Parise said. “There’s a lot of things, especially now, that I wouldn’t be around for if (he signed) somewhere else.”
As for his return tonight in New Jersey, Parise has seen what kind of homecomings his teammates have received when returning to face their former teams. Suter has been booed mercilessly in Nashville. On Tuesday in Long Island, Matt Moulson was cheered and the crowd chanted, “We want Moulson!” while Nino Niederreiter was booed. The former Devils captain thinks the New Jersey faithful won’t be so harsh.
“I’ve witnessed it firsthand,” Parise said. “I’m not sure it’s going to be as hostile as it was down in Nashville. I don’t know what to expect.”