Zach Paris was born on July 28, 1984 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.) His father, Jean-Paul, was coaching for the Minnesota North Stars when Zach arrived in the world. A hardnosed, hard-hitting forward, J.P. logged 14 seasons in the NHL for the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Minnesota North Stars, New York Islanders, and Cleveland Barons—who merged with the North Stars in 1978–79. A dozen years before Zach was born, his father was a member of Team Canada during the legendary Summit Series against the Soviet Union.
In 1989, J.P. left the North Stars to become the hockey director at Shattuck-Saint Mary's in Faribault, Minnesota. During his time there, he helped develop an impressive list of emerging stars, including Sidney Crosby, Jack Johnson, Jonathan Toews and his two sons, Zach and older brother Jordan.
Early on, Jordan was the family’s rising star. He was an accomplished forward on the same teams that were cutting Zach, who played center and shot left-handed. Each season, Zach was crestfallen.
The Parise boys loved to talk hockey with their father. Despite his smallish size, J.P. had been a bona fide star who wasn’t afraid to mix it up in the corners or in front of the net. His hustle and nose for the puck also made in an effective scorer. He retired as Minnesota’s all-time assists leader.
But the Parises did not dissect each game at the dinner table like many families of ex-NHLers. However, J.P. did offer Zach one bit of sage advice. Be patient, he said. Watch and learn. The goals will come. J.P. knew this as well as anyone. His overtime goal against the New York Rangers in the 1975 playoffs helped change the balance of hokcey power in the Big Apple.
As J.P. predicted, the goals did come. By the time he was a junior at Shattuck-St. Mary's, Zach was scoring by the bushelful. In his final two seasons of high school—2000–01 and 2001–02—he netted 146 goals and added 194 assists. After graduation, he was invited to join USA Hockey’s development program.
In 2002–03, Zach followed Jordan to the University of North Dakota. Chosen as much for his bloodlines and family connections as his on-ice abilities, He blew everyone away from the first day he pulled on a Fighting Sioux uniform. Zach scored a hat trick in his first college game and was named to the Western Collegiate Hockey Association's All-Rookie Team and All-Conference thirdrd team in his first year at North Dakota. He was also in the running for the Hobey Baker Award.
That was all the Devils needed to see. They made the smart, tenacious teenager their first pick—the 17th overall—in the 2003 draft.
ON THE RISE
Zach, however, stayed at North Dakota in 2003–04 and was even better. A First Team All-American and a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, he scored 23 goals and had 32 assists in 37 games. That brought his two-year scoring total to 49 goals and 116 assists.
Zach also led Team USA into battle in the World Junior Championships. He was named the tournament MVP, as he propelled the American squad to its first-ever gold medal.
Zach now had a big decision to make. Should he stay in college or join the Devils? He thought he was ready for the NHL. In fact, many agreed with him, believing that he had the talent to become New Jersey’s second-line center, behind Scott Gomez. Zach decided to roll the dice, and he signed a pro contract at the end of March.
Unfortunately, Zach’s timing couldn’t have been worse. That summer the owners and players failed to hammer out a collective bargaining agreement, and the NHL season was cancelled. In turn, Zach was relegated to the minor leagues, where his contract called for a salary of $50,000, instead of the $600,000 that he would have made as a big-leaguer.
Without any other options, Zach suited up for the Albany River Rats in 2004–05 and started learning the pro game. Albany wasn’t exactly an incubator of winning hockey—the River Rats were perennial last-place finishers, and this year was no exception. Zach nonetheless acquitted himself nicely during the year, tallying 58 points on 18 goals and 40 assists. Named to the AHL All-Star Game, he netted the winning goal in a shootout for the Planet USA squad.
The NHL hit the restart button in 2005–06, and Zach made the Devils as a fourth-line center. In his first meeting with his old pal “Sid the Kid,” Zach scored against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Meadowlands. The goal prompted the home crowd to chant, “Parise’s Better! Parise’s Better!”
Although admirably supportive, the assessment of Devils fans was premature. Crosby went on the score 102 points his rookie campaign, while Zach scrapped for ice time through the early part of the year. In late December, the Devils made a coaching change, as GM Lou Lamoriello canned Larry Robinson and assumed double-duty behind the bench. New Jersey won 32 of 50 games under Lamoriello and surged into first place in the Atlantic Division with 101 points.
Part of the team’s second-half success was attributable to Zach, whom Lamoriello immediately promoted to the team’s second line along with Sergei Brylin and Jamie Langenbrunner. It meant that Zach had to move from center to his father’s old position, left wing. He took to his new position right away.
Late in March, Lamoriello promoted Zach again, this time to the team’s top line. He joined Gomez and Brian Gionta, while Patrik Elias moved down. The idea was to give the second line more goal-scoring punch and use Zach's tenacity and energy to create opportunities for his new linemates. The experiment worked like a charm. It also helped Zach pick up his goal scoring. He tickled the twines six times in 14 games to finish the year with 14 goals to go with 18 assists.
The Devils swept the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs but then were ambushed by the Carolina Hurricanes in the next round. After dropping the opener 6–0, New Jersey suffered two heartbreaking losses to go down three games to none. The Hurricanes finished off the Devils in five games. Zach contributed a goal and two assists in nine postseason appearances.
New Jersey setled on a new coach, Claude Julien, in 2006-07, and he looked for Zach to get off to a fast start. He obliged by scoring 26 seconds into the team’s opening game. It was the start to a solid season that saw Zach score 31 goals and dish out 31 assists. During the All-Star break, he skated in the YoungStars Game and was named the contest’s MVP. New Jersey, meanwhile, picked up the pace when the regular season resume. The Devils repeated as division champs with 107 points—second-most in the Eastern Conference.
Despite the team’s good play, Lamoriello fired Julien with just a few games to go in the season and stepped behind the bench for the playoffs. It looked like a smart move in the opening round, when the Devils defeated the Tampa Bay Lighting in six games. Zach was one of the stars for New Jersey, scoring a pair in the opener and two more in a pivotal Game 4 overtime win that turned the series around.
The Devils, however, stumbled in the second round again, losing to the less-talented Ottawa Senators. Zach scored in Game 1 and was shut out the rest of the way. All five games in the series were close, but the Senators took four of them to send the Devils packing.
Over the summer, the Devils lost Gomez and Brian Rafalski to free agency. But the departure of the two fan favorites started a new era in New Jersey, as the team moved into the Prudential Center in Newark. Zach was now being counted on as the Devils’ go-to scorer, and he responded by leading the club with 65 points on the strength of a 32-goal campaign. Zach skated on a line with Langenbrunner and center Travis Zajac, whom the Devils had made their top draft pick in 2004. The trio worked together beautifully almost from the start. Fans called the line ZZ Pop—“Pop” standing for Langenbrunner, the veteran captain.
The Devils, buoyed by an outstanding performance from veteran goalie Martin Brodeur, finished with 46 victories in 2007-08. Their final win came in a shootout over the Rangers, which gave New Jersey the coveted home-ice advantage against New York in the opening round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, from there things went totally haywire. New coach Brent Sutter watched helplessly as the Devils fell to the Rangers in five games—with an unimaginable three losses on the Prudential Center ice.
New Jersey fans consoled themselves by dreaming about a breakthrough season for Zach. The 2008–09 campaign would be his second with linemates Langenbrunner and Zajac, and his forth overall. It was time to shoot for triple-digits in points and assists.
Once again, Zach got off to a red-hot start. From October 18 to November 1, he found the net in six straight games. It wasn’t just Zach who was lighting the lamp—the traditionally goal-deprived Devils were scoring at a phenomenal pace. Opponents used to contending with Jersey’s stifling trap-oriented defense now had to deal with an explosive offense.
Zach was among the NHL leaders in goals and points for much of the season. He was also murder on the power play, scoring 14 times when New Jersey had a man advantage. This earned him his first All-Star nod, and he did the Devils proud as their only rep, scoring a goal for the Eastern Conference in its 12–11 shootout victory over the Western Conference.
A high-value target for NHL goons for much of the season, Zach did his damage with his stick, not his fists. The result was a team record for shots, just 24 minutes in box, and a nomination as a finalist for the Lady Byng Trophy. Zach played all 82 games for the Devils and finished with 45 goals (third in the NHL) and 95 points (fifth in the league). His +30 rating was second among the league’s top scorers to Pavel Datsyuk of the Detroit Red Wings.
The Devils clinched first place in the Atlantic Division, edging the Penguins, Flyers and Rangers in a tight race. They faced the speedy Hurricanes in the opening round and scored a Game 1 victory on a great end-to-end team effort. The two teams next traded overtime victories, with Zach scoring in each of the first three contests.
Game 4 was a stunner. The Devils fought back from a three-goal deficit to tie the contest, only to watch it slip from their grasp on a deflection with less than a second left in the final period. New Jersey bounced back with an exciting 1–0 shutout, but Carolina skated to two more victories to steal the series.
Game 7 was excruciating for New Jersey fans—the Devils actually led in the third period with less than two minutes left. The Hurricanes scored twice to end what promised to be a great postseason for Zach and the Devils. He shouldered some of the blame for the series defeat. In the final four games, he was unable to put the puck in the net.
The Devils went into the 2009–10 season primed for another Atlantic Division battle with the Penguins, who were now the defending Stanley Cup champs. Through the first three-quarters of the season, they more than held their own. Zach was playing extremely well at both ends of the ice, and as the Olympics began, he was within reach of a 40-goal season. He was second in the league in shots on goal, and 21 of his goals had come at even strength, tying him for tops in the NHL.
As the prime scoring threat for Team USA, the pressure was on Zach to produce in Vancouver. The Americans were not expected to medal, but the players began to believe in themselves after defeating Canada in the preliminary round. Chris Drury and Jamie Langenbrunner scored to give the U.S. a 4–2 lead. They held on to win, 5–3. Having already beaten groupmates Switzerland and Norway, Team USA entered the single-elimination round as the #1 team.
A rematch with the Swiss went into the third period scoreless when Zach netted a goal. The Swiss could not solve Ryan Miller, and Zach added an empty netter before the final siren for a 2–0 win. Next up was Finland. What was expected to be a close game turned into a wipeout. Team USA scored four times against Miikka Kiprusoff in the first 10 minutes. The slaughter continued as the Americans won 6–1. Zach scored the second goal of the game on a power play, assisted by linemates Brian Rafalski and Paul Stastny. Later in the opening period, Zach assisted on a goal by Stastny.
On the other side of the draw, Canada defeated Russia and Slovakia to set up a rematch with Team USA for the gold medal. Few in the pro-Canadian crowd gave the Americans a chance, and for much of the game Team USA was outplayed. But after falling behind 2–0 in the second period, Patrick Kane got the Americans within one with a slapshot that danced over the stick of Roberto Luongo. The goal was credited to Ryan Kesler, who may have tipped the puck.
With under a minute left, the Americans pulled their goalie and made one last desperate attack. Luongo mishandled a shot, giving up a long rebound, and for a moment the Canadian defense panicked. That was enough time for Zach to slip between Scott Niedermayer and Luongo, and then slap the loose puck into the net for the tying goal with 25 seconds on the clock.
It was the culmination of a fiercely competitive and highly entertaining third period that saw the Americans match their NHL All-Star counterparts shot for shot and check for check. Although Sidney Crosby ended Team USA’s dream in overtime, the performance of the U.S. opened a lot of eyes in the hockey world. As for Zach, he was no longer the best player no one ever heard of. More than any other player in the tournament—MVP Ryan Miller and Sid the Kid included—Zach’s startwinkled brightest of all.
A few days later it was back to the NHL grind, where Zach had to deal with a new set of expectations. The Devils and their fans are not used to playoff disappointment. On the contrary, they have become accustomed to Stanley Cup runs. With Zach having proven his mettle in a gold-medal game, there is no question who will bear the responsibility for taking the team back to the finals. What Zach did for Team USA he must now do for the Devils.
Although defense will always define success in New Jersey, Zach is now the team’s difference-maker. As he enters the prime years of his career, he has both the physical and mental game to accomplish this task. He certainly has the international reputation. And, of course, if he ever needs advice, all he has to do is ask his dad.
ZACH THE PLAYER
As the son of an NHL All-Star, the product of a legendary hockey-playing high school, and a star for a first-rate college program, Zach has the perfect pedigree. He skates and shoots as well as anyone at his position in the NHL, and his raw determination reminds coaches of a hungry rookie more than a seasoned pro.
Zach’s rookie-like streakiness is about the only thing holding him back. He scores goals in bunches but then runs dry. He has begun to address this in a measured and reasonable way—working hard to reduce the number of games when he doesn’t score.
Zach will never be the biggest player on the ice, but he plays big and is strong on his skates. His terrific balance enables him to trade body blows with guys much heavier than him. That enables him to get to open spots on the ice from which he can launch his hard, accurate shot. Few players in the league consistently put the puck on goal the way Zach does.
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