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NHL - Zach Parise on the state of the Minnesota Wild, GM change, 'Lost' and Ilya Kovalchuk

ESPN.com | Updated: 2018-08-29 06:00:09

PLYMOUTH, Mich. -- Zach Parise has worn a few jerseys in his career. That of a North Dakota Fighting Sioux. That of a New Jersey Devil. His current one with the Minnesota Wild.

And over the course of 10 tournaments, he's also worn a sweater representing USA Hockey. That includes two different Winter Olympics ... although, obviously, not the most recent one.

"It was sad, wasn't it?" said Parise, on the NHL's decision not to send players to South Korea.

He, along with over two dozen other NHL players, wore another USA Hockey jersey in Plymouth, Michigan, on Sunday. It had the red, white and blue, and the initials 'JJ' on the crest in honor of Jim Johannson, the veteran USA Hockey executive who passed away in January from heart disease. Parise played in the Stars & Stripes Showdown, with proceeds benefiting the Jim Johannson Legacy Fund and his young daughter's college fund.

"It still doesn't seem real. You feel for the family," said Parise to ESPN after the game. "There's so much that he did for me, individually, but there's so much that he did for us as a team where we didn't have to worry about anything, we just had to play. He's one of the guys that's calling you when you make the Olympic team, or make the world junior team."

The late August exhibition game continued Parise's road back from a broken sternum, which ended his season in Game 3 of the Wild's divisional semifinal series against the Winnipeg Jets on April 15. After winning that game, they'd lose the next two games and the series, 4-1, continuing a conference final drought that tracks all the way back to 2003.

Last season was an injury-filled one for Parise. He had back surgery in Oct. 2017 as well, missing roughly three months and limiting him to 42 games.

Now?

"Sternum's good. Back is good. Knock on wood," said Parise.

We spoke with the 34-year-old Wild winger about his health, Minnesota's championship potential, the hiring of general manager Paul Fenton to replace Chuck Fletcher, the return of Ilya Kovalchuk to the NHL and much more. Enjoy...


ESPN: You haven't had a full season since 2013. Is playing around 70 games just going to be the new normal?

Parise: No. I think everyone goes into it with the intention of playing 82 [games]. There are things that are just out of your control. I know the one year I took a slapper on my foot, broke my foot and I'm out 15 games. I think the back thing caught up to me. I know it happened two years ago, it didn't feel right, and then it came to the point where I had to get the surgery. I'm hoping that my body feels good know. It's all in the past. Let's play 82.

ESPN: This the first general manager change of your career. You certainly didn't have one while you were in Jersey.

Parise: [Laughs] No. A lot of coaching changes, though. But no GM changes.

ESPN: How is this different than a coaching change? Have you met Paul? What's your vibe?

Parise: I met him. It's tough to see right now. We haven't been together as a group yet. I've had Lou [Lamoriello] and I've had Chuck. Lou had his hands on everything. He knew everything that was going on. Chuck, I felt like, was more passive. Wasn't around the room as much. We'll see what Paul will be like. I don't know. It's hard to tell unless you're there. But obviously there haven't been any major personnel changes.

ESPN: Did that surprise you this summer?

Parise: I think everyone thought there was going to be [big moves]. We see the rumors, too. I don't know what happens on those phone calls. Maybe someone didn't like something, or whatnot. It's always easier said than done. Everyone would love to trade four or five guys for a first-line center.

ESPN: We mentioned Chuck Fletcher. Is it weird not having the guy that signed you there anymore?

Parise: Yeah, a little bit. It's different. I have a lot of respect for Chuck. I like Chuck. I got along with him really well. I thought he made some good moves to make our team better, and unfortunately with the disappointments we had in the playoffs ... you know the business.

ESPN: You and Ryan Suter signed your 13-year contracts in July 2012. Back then, did you believe you would have played for a Stanley Cup with the Wild by 2018?

Parise: I was hoping, yeah. We were going in the right direction, I thought. But in the last two years, we had some very disappointing playoff performances. We made the playoffs right away [in 2012-13]. The next year, we beat Colorado and we had a great series with Chicago. We were two wins away from going to the conference final. And then it's just ... from there, we haven't climbed the ladder.

ESPN: What do you think the window is currently for the Wild to win the Stanley Cup?

Parise: The West is tough. St. Louis is going to be very good. Colorado's going to be really good. Nashville and Winnipeg aren't going anywhere. Dallas is going to be good. Chicago's going to be better. But you've seen so many eight-vs.-one or two-vs.-seven upsets, it's so close. There are five points separating No. 1 and No. 7. We'll see.

ESPN: Speaking of the West, what do you think about your old Devils linemate Ilya Kovalchuk coming back to the NHL?

Parise: It's great. You know what? I loved playing with him. The guy is such a good and dynamic player. I think he belongs in the NHL. Should have always been here. I think it's great to have him back. And seeing the way he trains, the guy is a freak. He's a specimen. The guy could play 26 minutes and he wasn't even sweating. I know he's aged a little bit, but I don't see him slowing down.

ESPN: I always found it interesting that the perception of him from outside of the dressing room was always completely different than how the room felt about him.

Parise: Very different. I know I've talked to people and they had that negative image of him. 'He's selfish.' 'He's a dog.' I didn't see that at all. He worked his ass off and was a great guy in the room. He was a great teammate. He fought for me. I've got nothing but great things to say about him.

ESPN: Finally, on the pop culture tip: Next year is the 15th anniversary of "Lost" coming on the air, a show you've previously declared is one of your favorites.

Parise: Great show. Wish it didn't end. [Laughs]

ESPN: What's your "Lost" now? What's replaced it?

Parise: Kids have replaced it. I don't watch television anymore. The twins are 4-and-a-half and we have a 6-month-old. Honestly, we don't flip on the TV at our house. We don't have the time. Once my wife and I go to bed, we might watch "Last Man Standing" and we're exhausted. But I was disappointed when "Sons of Anarchy" went away, "Dexter" ended. Those were the good ones. Why, is there a good one now I need to jump on?

ESPN: I think from a binge perspective, I'm always advocating for "Billions."

Parise: Yeah, he was just talking about that to me, actually. [Motions at Ryan Suter, standing a few feet away.] Maybe it's a road show for me.

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