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Parrish Plies Trade at Orono

Former Wild forward's tutelage comes from vast NHL experience

by Todd Smith / Special to

ORONO -- The high school varsity hockey coach here used to make his living in the NHL, specifically in the slot, digging into the hard area of the ice in front of the goal. Now, Mark Parrish is teaching another generation how to do the same.

Parrish is a Minnesota native and former Minnesota Wild forward who spent 11 seasons and over 700 games in the NHL. He recorded 216 goals, most of which were scored around the net, the dirty part of the offensive zone where the real estate is costly and comes with a deep physical sacrifice.

At a recent Orono practice, Parrish plied the trade he knows best as he guided his team through offense drills near the goal. But now he's on the other side of the whistle. 

"I still hesitate when someone calls me Coach," Parrish said, laughing. "I always wait a second. Then I go, 'Oh, hey. They're talking to me!'"

Parrish excitedly starts a power-play drill and zips a puck to a defenseman at the point. The puck slides down to a forward who is working near the goal line. It dissolves into a tangle of skates and sticks. 

Parrish stops the play. He talks to the forward, a fresh-faced kid with a large salad of hair flowing out of every hole in his helmet, and tells him his two options: Make a power move toward the net or quickly slide the puck to his center man in the slot.

The air in the Orono Ice Arena is a tangy mix of hockey smell and Zamboni exhaust. This is Parrish's new classroom. 

After a lengthy career in collegiate and professional hockey -- a long road through the WCHA, the American Hockey League, and the bright lights of the NHL -- Parrish has a lot of knowledge to pass along, too.

After all, he earned his education the hard way. 

Parrish played for seven NHL teams. He has been both a 30 goal scorer and the 13th forward sitting in the press box. He was an All-Star and a reputed teammate who also was traded multiple times.

In hindsight, though, there was an upside to being traded so often: he receiving a higher education in coaching and running a hockey team.

"It was frustrating at the time getting traded and moving so much," said Parrish, whose Spartans team is 9-5-0 heading into Thursday night's game against New Prague. "But the good thing about playing over 700 games in the NHL is that you get to see just about everything. All sorts of situations. It prepared me for my career now. I can fall back on how all those different coaches handled their players, the team and the locker room."

Now at Orono when situations pop up, Parrish can flip through a rolodex of his memories from his life inside the NHL playing for an assortment of elite coaches. He remembers how his former coaches such as Peter Laviolette, Jacques Lemaire, Kevin Dineen and Dave Tippett handled game tactics, practices and days off. 

Most importantly, Parrish watched how they handled all the different personalities of his teammates. He learned how they treated every teammate equally but at the same time recognized that each player was unique and responded differently to coaching. It was training for handling a room of teenagers.

"Instead of a player being Russian and learning how Russians act, I'm learning about how a 15-year-old acts a certain way," Parrish said. "I can now say, 'Well, that kid didn't respond to the hard-nose, Lemaire style. Maybe I'll try to light a fire like Laviolette, or be more of a teacher like Tippett." 

At the end of his career, in Dallas, it was Stars head coach Tippett who gave Parrish a doctorate in professional hockey. Tippett asked Parrish to attend all the different player meetings and take notes regardless of whether he was active or not.

"After the meetings, he would talk to me about the information. He'd ask me questions about it," said Parrish. "He clearly must've seen a coaching job in my future."

Now, Parrish is passing that information along to his Orono players. One drill at a time.

He blows the whistle to start the power play drill. The puck is moved once again down to the forward with the salad of hair. This time the kid deftly slides the puck through the jostling scrum in the crease to his center,who taps it in for an easy goal.

Parrish's face lights up with a smile. He has made the transition from being the player to being the coach. After so many years out on of the road of the NHL, he is finally home. And class is in session.

"That was awesome," he chirps. "Do it again!" 

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