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On the ice the Minnesota Wild were trailing the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 midway through the 3d period, trying not only to net the equalizer, but also trying to avoid getting swept on the road by the only team ahead of them in the division standings.
In years past hopeful Wild fans, and probably a teammate or two, would be keeping a watchful eye on Zach Parise, hoping the undersized forward would take up his usual place in front of the opponents’ goal, ready to take the physical abuse that comes with having the audacity to set up shop in front of the opponent’s net in the hope that he may be able to tip a shot past the goalie for the equalizer.
But, on this night Parise, an assistant captain and the franchise’s 3rd all-time leading scorer, was up in the press box instead of in front of the net, a healthy scratch for the first time in his 9-year career with the Wild. Not only would he not help the team on this night, but the next day Parise might have damaged both himself, and the team over an incident that quite frankly, he could have handled better.
The story is that Parise was benched earlier in the day by Head Coach Dean Evason for staying on the ice too long in Monday’s first game against the Golden Knights. With the Wild up by a goal with less than minute to go, Parise failed to get off for fresh legs, then, a pass he was unable to collect ended up in the Wild net for the game-tying goals in a game the Wild would go on to lose, 5-4 in O-T.
None of this was public fodder until the lines were put up for Wednesday night’s rematch and the team beat writers did a double-take at seeing one of the Wild’s highest-paid players and an elder statesman listed as a healthy scratch. At that point this was a major story, but Parise again had an opportunity to help himself and his team, and again he failed to do either.
“It was disappointing, and I don’t agree with the decision,” Parise said. “In my heart, I felt like I was doing the right thing.”
OK, from a PR standpoint it’s perfectly OK to say that you’re disappointed, a little less-so to voice your disagreement with your head coach, because now you’re forcing fans and teammates to take sides on the issue.
Parise went on to say that he extended his shift because he wanted to help teammate Marcus Foligno get his first career hat-trick. On its own that’s a nice thought, but with your team riding a 6-game win-streak and just seconds away from winning and moving into first place in the division, let’s just say it was misguided. At Best.
If it ended right there, I wouldn’t be writing this post, but unfortunately Zach went on to explain that after his meeting with the Wild Head Coach he took his case to his teammates.
Said Parise, “But after our meeting, I talked to the team about it and they are 100 percent behind me and have my back and that’s what matters.”
And, you’ve lost me.
With that one line Parise has turned a situation that was all about him and made it into an “us” against “them” situation, implying that his teammates support him in this dustup with Evason, a coach who has the Wild laying their best in years while receiving only a marginal contribution from the 36-year old winger.
For his part Evason handled the situation better publicly, saying, “We’re hoping clearly that this is the tweak, and right or wrong, we’ve made the decision and we’re going to live with it. But do we expect Zach Parise to be a huge part of our hockey club? Of course. And there’s no question that our organization believes that, and I can take it a step further. There’s no question our team believes that.”
A positive spin to be sure but don’t forget that Evason tried to deal Parise in the off-season with Zach’s blessing, but the deal fell apart. Why you ask? Let’s face it, the only reason Parise is still with the Wild is that mega contract he received back in 2012 makes him a pill no other team can swallow and one the Wild can’t afford to choke on.
For this team to contend Parise needs to take his medicine and instead of forcing his teammates to take sides with him or their head coach he needs to find a way to turn his benching turn it into a positive because the guess here is that Wild fans won’t offer the same support Parise, right or wrong, believes he enjoys in the locker room.