"You play with those guys for so long. I'm still good friends with a lot of the guys and I keep in touch with a lot of them. It will be weird facing off against them for the first time," Zach Parise told the New Jersey Star-Ledger on Saturday. On Sunday, the Wild will play against the New Jersey Devils for the first time since the July 4th fireworks eighteen months ago. The Wild were supposed to play in Jersey on November 11th of last year, but wasn't able to because of the labor dispute.
Parise, who was born in Minneapolis, was drafted 17th overall in the 2003 Entry Draft by the Devils after playing hockey for the famed hockey prep school Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault, Minnesota. The University of North Dakota would then be graced with his presence when he chose to play for Dean Blais' Fighting Sioux over the defending NCAA National Champion University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. Parise was a two-time Hobey Baker award candidate while playing in Grand Forks. After turning pro following his sophomore season at UND, Parise would help Team USA claim the gold medal at the 2004 World Junior Championships and capture the Tournament's Most Valuable Player Award.
Parise would join the Devils in the 2005-06 season. He would play in Newark for the next seven seasons posting 194 goals and 216 assists (410 points) on his way to becoming the Devils' captain. The rest, you could say, is history. In the summer of 2012 Parise would sign a $98 million contract to join the Minnesota Wild and return to his old stomping grounds. "There's no question we're disappointed. It's a very unfortunate thing when you have a player of his stature that's come right through the ranks and then, at this given time, a decision is made to go elsewhere," Devils' GM Lou Lamoriello said to the Star-Ledger after the signing. "You don't replace a Zach Parise. You just don't do that."
Needless to say, Sunday's match-up against the Devils will be emotional for both teams. The Wild, after getting bumped from the playoffs in the first round last season by the Chicago Blackhawks, are coming into today's game winners of five of their last six. Parise has 10 points on the season (6G-4A), number two in the league in total shots (67), and tied for 2nd in the league for power play goals (4).
Minnesota comes into Sunday's game with the 4th-best power play in the league at 24.1 percent, the 2nd worst penalty kill at 75 percent (ugh, is that hideous!), 6th in the league for Goals Against with 2.3, and the 21th best Goals For ranking with 2.4. The Wild are in fourth place in the Central Division with 17 points, just seven behind division leader Colorado Avalanche. If the Wild are on the outside looking in for the playoff race, sitting in ninth place behind the Blues and the Kings.
The Devils were runners up in the 2012 Stanley Cup Finals, losing to the Los Angeles Kings in six games. After losing Parise in the offseason, the Devils would flounder to a 19-19-10 record and miss the playoffs. Damien Brunner, former Detroit Red Wings forward, was acquired via free agency in this past offseason and leads the team with 4 goals. Game-winning-goal monster, Jaromir Jagr, joined the Devils in the offseason at 41 years old. He is currently riding a five-game scoring streak. The Devils, whom hosted the 2013 Entry Draft, made blockbuster trade for goaltender Cory Schneider. However, Schneider is on the Injured Reserve with a lower-body injury and did not back-up Martin Brodeur against Philly. Marek Zidlicky (remember him?) is leading the team in assists (8) and penalty minutes (10).
New Jersey comes in with a 3-6-4 record which is good enough for 7th in the Metropolitan Division, tied for 12th in the Eastern Conference with 10 points. They are winners of 2 of their last 5 games and are coming off of a 1-0 loss against the embarrassing Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. The Devils' special teams is also very mediocre. the power play ranks 11th in the league, posting a 21.4 percent, and the penalty kill is ranked 16th in the league with a 81.8 percent. In Goals per Game, New Jersey is a god awful 2.2 and ranked 24th overall.
Parise is determined to make the Wild a winner, but knows how awkward playing the Devils will be. Hopefully there has been enough time for the hard feelings to die down a bit. "Had we played that game on Nov. 11 last year in New Jersey, that would've been a little different. A few months earlier you're playing with those guys in the Cup Finals and all of a sudden you're playing against them. But a little over a year has gone by, so I think that will make it a little easier," Parise said. What makes it all the more easier is getting a big win at home.