Commentary

Devils' Parise talks parents, pucks and pranks

Updated: December 18, 2007, 11:23 AM ET
By David Amber | Special to ESPN.com

After the New Jersey Devils won just three of their first 10 games to start the season, many critics said they were toast.

But, two months later, the Devils are fighting for first in the Atlantic Division, and a huge part of the turnaround has been Zach Parise.

In this week's Facing Off, Parise tells us what it was like to upstage Sid the Kid, how his father helped get him to the bigs and what latest prank has one of his teammates fuming.

Parise -- Quick Facts

• Parise was the Devils' first-round pick (17th overall) in 2003.

• He has 10 multipoint games in his first 27 games this season.

• His father, J.P. Parise, played 890 NHL games between 1966 and '79 for Boston, Toronto, Minnesota, New York Islanders and Cleveland.

Question from David Amber: How does a guy who grew up in Minnesota with a father who played for the North Stars end up playing college pucks at the University of North Dakota?

Answer from Zach Parise: It actually caused a lot of controversy in Minnesota, but I just went for a visit to North Dakota and I liked it there. For a lot of kids growing up in Minnesota, it was all about the Gophers, but we were never like that. We watched the North Stars and stuff, but we never got that Gophers brainwash or anything. North Dakota just seemed like a better fit for me.

Q: Your brother, Jordan, is a goalie on the Devils' AHL team. What was it like growing up with a brother who was an elite goalie?

A: It was nice. I learned a lot from him. He always told me where goalies might be vulnerable, the angles, things like that. It helped me a lot, getting to practice every day on a real goalie, not on an empty net.

Q: It has to be tough for your brother, playing in an organization where Martin Brodeur is clearly the No. 1 guy. What do you tell him?

A: It is tough, but I tell him to be patient. He's playing well in the AHL. He just hopes to one day have a chance to play. He's good enough, so his time will come.

Q: It's a pretty cool story that Brian Gionta and Jay Pandolfo also have brothers playing for the Devils' AHL team. What's that like?

A: It's kind of unique. We talk about it once in a while. I guess they like the brother combos [laughs].

[+] EnlargeZach Parise
Andy Marlin/Getty ImagesZach Parise had 15 goals and 20 assists in his first 33 games this season.

Q: What is Brent Sutter like as a coach?

A: He's great. He definitely holds you accountable. You have to play hard all the time. He has done a great job so far.

Q: If you were starting up a team, which of the Sutter brothers would you pick first?

A: He's the only one I know.

Q: Wow, you're young.

A: [Laughs] I don't know which one was the best player. But I know it's better to pick your coach in that scenario [laughs].

Q: In July, you signed a four-year, $12.5 million deal. What was the first thing you bought?

A: I'm just getting a new car. That's going to be my treat to myself. I'm getting the Audi S5, the two-door sports car. I have to wait until the automatic comes out in April; I can't drive standard.

Q: [Laughs] You can't get a sports car like that in automatic. That's sacrilege!

A: [Laughs] I know, but everyone I talk to says you don't want to drive standard in all this traffic anyway. So, I know it won't be as fun, but it's still a nice car.

Q: So many of the young stars in the NHL are buying those new sporty Bentleys. You didn't consider that?

A: Really? Guys are doing that? Those are expensive. Marty [Brodeur] has one of them. Those are $200,000-$300,000 cars. I'm making good money, but he's making a lot more than me [laughs].

Q: Tell us about your first NHL game, where you stole the spotlight from Sidney Crosby, who was also making his NHL debut.

A: It was nerve-racking. You look across the ice and not only see Crosby, but Mario Lemieux and it was like "Wow, I'm really here." It turned out be a special night for me.

Q: Did you sense there was a certain buzz at the rink because it was Crosby's first NHL game and there was so much hype on this young star?

A: Oh yeah, it was nuts. All eyes were on him and how he was going to do. He played well. I think he got an assist and the rest is history for him.

Q: Yeah, but you scored the game-winning goal, your first in the NHL.

A: Did I?

Q: Yeah, you scored the second goal in a 5-1 win.

A: Oh, I didn't remember. I have that puck on a plaque, so it was a cool deal. But I forgot I had the game winner. It was kind of like a blur. I just wanted to get the first one out of the way. It was my first career shot on net, so it was amazing.

Q: What makes the Devils' new rink, the Prudential Center, unique?

A: It's great. There are two rinks, the practice side and the game side, so we have separate locker rooms for both. That's kind of different. I have never seen that before. They didn't cut any corners on the rink, it is really nice. It's a real hockey rink. The old stadium was too big -- it was a basketball arena. This one, the fans are right on top of you. It's a much better atmosphere.

Q: You had your first career NHL hat trick on Nov. 30 against Montreal. How did you celebrate?

A:I just went out with some of the guys, had a good time [laughs]. That's it. It was low key. That's all I'm saying. It was fun. No big deal.

Q: What happens to those hats that fans throw on the ice?

A: They gave me three of them to keep. They are still in my locker at the rink. Colin White wanted one for his kid, so I gave him one, one of those big puck hats. The others are still in my locker.

[+] EnlargeJ.P. Parise
Bruce Bennet Studios/Getty ImagesZach says he learned how to enjoy the game from his father, former North Stars standout J.P. Parise.

Q: What was it like starting the season on a nine-game, 21-day road trip?

A: For us in the Eastern Conference, it's not so bad. We played in Philly, which is close. We played the Rangers, which is 10 minutes away. So, a lot of times, we were spending the night in our own bed. It was good to help the team bond.

Q: Any pranksters on the team?

A: Yeah, it's getting ugly in the locker room right now [laughs]. The latest prank was on Brian Gionta. He just got a new car, a BMW M6. One guy, I won't say who, took this huge mannequin, like 6 feet tall, put a little skate towel around him, took Gionta's car keys and stuffed the mannequin into the front seat. This is a little two-seat sports car, so it is literally jammed into the car. Gionta is freaking out. He loves his new car and there's this mannequin inside scratching it up [laughs]. So, guys are doing all kinds of crazy stuff.

Q: Who do you room with on the road?

A: Travis Zajac.

Q: What's the best and worst part of that?

A: He's kind of a loud sleeper. Not snoring, but he makes these weird noises while he sleeps. Sometimes that keeps me up. But we have a lot of fun. We play cribbage, "Tiger Woods" golf, things like that.

Q: Who is the leader of the team?

A: We have a lot of veterans. I would say Jay Pandolfo. Jamie Langenbrunner was just named our captain, for good reason, too. John Madden. Sergei Brylin has been there for like 12 years, so there's a lot of guys to look to.

Q: Why do you think Patrik Elias had his captaincy taken away?

A: I don't know. It's not really my place to say. I don't know what transpired there. The day after they announced it, he had his best game of the season; so, I think it will give Patty time to relax and just play.

Q: Is there a star aura for you playing with Brodeur, knowing the career he's had?

A: I don't think I took a high shot on him for my first year and a half. I was scared to.

Q: [Laughs] You didn't want to be the guy to knock him out of a game, right?

A: Absolutely not. When you talk to him, you see he's just a normal guy. But when I look back, I'm sure I'll be thinking it was cool that I was on the ice when he broke the all-time wins in a season mark. And I was there when he had his 500th win. So that's cool.

Q: Your dad was a seven-time 20-goal scorer in the NHL, but his best season was 27 goals in 1972-73. Did you let him know you have one up on him with your 31 goals last season?

A: [Laughs] His brother called him right away after I got my 28th and rubbed it in. But he was happy, he was excited for me. One year, I think he had 72 points, so he's still got me on that part.

Q: Your dad was a coach in the CHL and an assistant coach in the NHL. What did he teach you about the game?

A: He taught me everything about shooting, the approach to the game. And the most important thing he taught me was to keep control of my emotions and enjoy it because you don't want to turn it into a job. He always said, "Have fun with it because you're playing a game."

Q: You guys have been playing some great hockey lately, but who would you say is the team to beat this season?

A: Ottawa. Despite what they've been doing lately, that's a good hockey team. They're always tough to beat. Detroit, too. They're always good, no surprise there. It's competitive, there are no easy games. Sounds like a cliché, but it's true.

ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.