By Sean Hartnett
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Since free agency began on July 1st, the hockey world knocked on Zach Parise’s door.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Detroit Red Wings, Philadelphia Flyers and defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings all made their pitches, but didn’t have a realistic shot at signing Parise.
His decision wasn’t about top-dollar, it wasn’t about any guarantees of immediate success. Parise’s decision came down to choosing between remaining in his adopted home of New Jersey or returning to his native and spiritual home of Minnesota.
Parise followed his hockey soul back to ‘The State of Hockey.’ That’s truly what it was about. It’s about reconnecting his hockey roots and being close his family.
“The opportunity to play at home, it really meant a lot to me,” Parise explained. “It meant a lot to my family. I grew up here, I love coming back here in the summers and I thought, it would be great to be around here year-round.”
Zach is now able visit his parents’ home in Prior Lake as often as he desires. He’s set to marry his fiancée Alisha later this month and will one day raise his family in Minnesota where hockey is king. Once he becomes a father, his children will have advantage of playing hockey as often as they wish. You can’t do that in New Jersey, where there is a shortage of rinks and lack of organization at youth level.
It’s an entirely different lifestyle compared to the fast-paced New York/New Jersey metropolitan area. Minnesota offers the opportunity to enjoy swimming and fishing in pristine lakes that only — ‘The Land of 10,000 Lakes’ can offer.
Once he finished his Wednesday conference call, Parise told reporters, “I’ll be going right in the lake after this is over. Shutting my phone off.”
Along with the comforts of home, Parise has what it takes to raise the profile of the Wild and help build a winning NHL tradition that hockey-rabid Minnesotans have always desired and deserved.
In 1993, the Minnesota North Stars moved to Dallas. Parise was a 9-year-old and probably was deeply heartbroken when the North Stars was forced to relocate because they couldn’t secure a new, revenue-pumping arena.
After becoming an expansion team in 2000, the Minnesota Wild are just beginning to establish their reputation in the NHL. Hours after Parise and fellow top free agent Ryan Suter signed, the Wild sold roughly 700 tickets.
With no disrespect to talented captain Mikko Koivu, scoring ace Dany Heatley and other skilled players in the Wild locker room, the Minnesota Wild now have a face in Parise, a local superstar fans can hang their hat upon.
“This is like Gretzky going to L.A., Malkin and Crosby going to Pittsburgh,” Neil Sheehy, Suter’s agent told Michael Russo of the Twin Cities Star Tributne. “It’s a game-changer. It’s huge. It’s major league-type stuff. The Wild just got two of the best players in the league at their positions.”
Parise spoke on Sunday about the pull to play in his home state.
“I always hoped it. Every kid that’s growing up in Minnesota would love to play for the Wild. That’s the way it is. I was hoping to have that opportunity and right now, I’m lucky that we were able to make it happen,” he said enthusiastically.
Let’s also get this straight… Parise did not turn his back on the New Jersey Devils. He’s not a mercenary or a sell-out. He even turned down the Pittsburgh Penguins after Sidney Crosby attempted to convince Parise join the Penguins and form a Miami Heat-like trio of superstars along with Evgeni Malkin.
Parise revealed that spoke with Devils’ General Manager Lou Lamoriello three-to-four times a day during the process.
“At the end, it came between New Jersey and Minnesota. I’m a loyal person, I love playing there,” Parise stated.
He went into the further detail about the decision process, “It was very hard. I loved playing in New Jersey. It’s a first-class organization. I can’t say enough about Lou, and the staff, and my teammates. They treat their players great. It was very, very hard to leave.”
Lamoriello was always a mentor to Parise and they’ve always had a close relationship. That isn’t going to change now that he’s left the organization he was drafted by in 2003.
“The conversation with Lou went very well. He was very supportive. We were up-front and honest throughout this whole process. We have a great relationship,” Parise said.
There’s no way to soften the blow of losing Parise. It’s a huge loss for the Devils both on the ice and off-ice. He’s an unbelievably gifted two-way forward such a great ambassador for the game of hockey.
Since making his NHL debut in 2005, Parise represented the Devils in a first-class way. Commitment, a never-ending work ethic, respect to his coaching staff, respect to the media, a humble attitude despite being one the game’s biggest stars — all trademarks Parise will bring to the Wild locker room.
His new teammates in Minnesota will pick up great habits by observing the way Parise goes about his business.
Losing Parise is a tough pill to swallow for the Devils’ organization and their fan base, but a huge gain for Minnesota hockey.
Devils fans — Are you wishing Parise luck in Minnesota? Share your thoughts below and send your tweets to @HartnettWFAN.