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Saturday, November 2, 2013
Playing against Devils bittersweet for Parise

By Katie Strang

When the Minnesota Wild's regular-season game against his former team, the New Jersey Devils, was crossed out last season because of the lockout, Zach Parise had mixed feelings.

"A part you wants to do it and get it over with," Parise, who signed as a free agent with his hometown Wild in July 2012, told ESPN.com back in April. "And then part of me was thinking, 'Maybe it's not so bad to wait a full calendar year to do it.'"

Parise was witness to what teammate Ryan Suter went through in the defenseman's first game back in Nashville -- an environment he described as "pretty hostile." Now the time has come for Parise, though he gets the opportunity to do it on his home turf when the Wild host the Devils in St. Paul, Minn., on Sunday night.

The emotionally charged matchup features two teams that have endured rocky starts but have been recently gaining traction. Winless in their first seven games, the Devils have been playing better, with two straight wins heading into Saturday’s game against the Flyers. Meanwhile, Minnesota has won four of its past five.

With both teams fighting to climb back into the playoff picture, the drama anticipated from Parise's meeting with his old club will have to take a back seat.

"Zach was a great player for us - he still is and he’s a great person, but this isn't about Zach," Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello told ESPN.com by phone Friday afternoon. "This is about the Devils playing Minnesota."

Lamoriello, who drafted Parise 17th overall in the 2003 NHL draft, said he will always have respect and feel fondness toward Parise, but that he has to differentiate the player from the person. And right now, Parise is just an opposing player his team will face this weekend, the start of a critical three-game road trip for the Devils.

Parise, who is in the second year of a 13-year, $98 million deal with the Wild, is tied with Jason Pominville and Mikael Granlund for the team scoring lead with 10 points through 14 games. As of late, he’s been producing at an impressive clip with two goals and five points in the past five games. Recently, he was split from captain Mikko Koivu as coach Mike Yeo opted to use the two players on different lines.

Regardless of where he starts Sunday's game or who he's playing with, the longtime Devil will have the spotlight considering the long-awaited meeting. And though Lamoriello is able to separate the player from the person, that task might not be as easy for Devils fans.

"It's always hard for the fans. That's understandable. That's their team," Lamoriello said. "They feel somebody might have done them wrong, they can’t separate the two [the player and the person], and they shouldn’t. They’re never criticizing the person. [Parise] will always have the respect, but I don’t care who it is. They’ll boo everybody."

Luckily for Parise, playing at home in Minnesota will largely save him from their wrath.