MINNEAPOLIS -- Perspective: It's a good thing to have in general, but it's especially good to have when your team has been circling the drain for weeks on end.
As Zach Parise headed out of the Minnesota Wild dressing room in the days leading up to the team's first outdoor game -- Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium against the Chicago Blackhawks -- with son Jaxson perched happily on his shoulder, it seemed that if one person had the all-important perspective during a trying season, it was Parise.
Two years ago, Parise and his wife had twins, Jaxson and Emelia, and a little more than a year ago, Parise lost his father, longtime NHLer J.P. Parise, to lung cancer.
He is not the Wild's captain -- Mikko Koivu has been since 2009 -- but Parise has nonetheless been the face of the team, the taker of his team's temperature, from the moment he and his good friend, Ryan Suter, signed 13-year, $98 million deals on July 4, 2012.
If the Wild are to attain their ultimate goal of winning a Stanley Cup, Parise will lead them on that journey. If they struggle -- as they have the past few months, in which the Wild at one point lost eight straight games and 13 of 14 -- he bears the weight of that as well.
Parise and the Wild got off to a solid start this season. Parise had seven goals in his first eight games but suffered a knee injury in early November and missed almost a month. He still leads the team in goals and is second in points, but the team has sunk below the playoff bubble in the Western Conference. A little more than a week ago, head coach Mike Yeo was fired and replaced by interim head coach John Torchetti.
With the Wild's 6-1 win over Chicago on Sunday, the team has won four in a row and pulled within a point of the second wild-card spot in the conference.
I had a chance to chat with Parise about raising twins, the frustration of this season and bouncing back.
Scott Burnside: When did you get your first pair of skates?
Zach Parise: My parents told me that I was skating when I was 2.
Burnside: So the twins better get at it.
Parise: (laughing) They weren't ready yet.
Burnside: Has it been different than you imagined -- being a dad to twins?
Parise: I don't know what one would be like, you know what I mean? But it's been awesome. It's not easy. It's a lot of work. And I can't believe how unbelievable my wife is with everything, when we're gone on the road and she's there by herself. It's crazy. It's a lot of work, but just to see them now, you don't remember being up all night. It goes away, and you just have fun with it. Just to see the way they're developing now and talking and stuff, there's nothing better.
Burnside: It must be fun now that they recognize you and greet you when you get home.
Parise: Even when you come home from practice or when you're gone for a couple of days, and you walk in, and they're sitting there, and they just look at you and smile and say "Da!" and they run to you -- that's awesome.
Burnside: They probably don't care if you've lost eight in a row or if your team is in the dumps.
Parise: You go home, and life's great. You know what I mean? They don't know. They don't care. They couldn't care less. Now, when they're a little older and they're getting harassed at school, maybe. Regardless of how the game goes, you go home [and] they're smiling. You can't wait to get home and see them. It's so separate. It's just two different worlds.
Burnside: What has this season been like for you, especially when you got out of the gate in good shape?
Parise: It's been frustrating. It's been a really frustrating year. Just like you said, you start off so good, and then for me, personally, getting hurt. It took a while to recover from that. I got off to a good start and was feeling good about it, then I got hurt, and it's been tougher to get a little traction, and we just started not playing well -- at all. Couldn't win games. Just from an individual standpoint, all the guys, no one felt good about the game and how they were playing, how we were playing. And then you just don't feel you can win, you know?
Burnside: Was this the worst stretch you've been part of since coming to the NHL?
Parise: The only one I can compare it to -- fortunately or unfortunately -- was the year that I had my knee surgery [while with the New Jersey Devils]. Coincidentally, I think we started like 9-30 or something like that, and they fired [head coach] John MacLean. I remember watching and talking to the guys. That's how I can relate it [to this year]. That year, no one felt good about playing with the puck, playing offensively, we couldn't score. It was kind of similar.
Burnside: Does part of the frustration come from looking around the room and realizing this is a Wild team that has the talent and the pieces to be much better?
Parise: Yes. It's like, 'How are we in this spot?' Because we were, I couldn't tell you exactly, but we were [about] 10 points up on wild-card teams before, with four games in hand. All of a sudden, we're chasing. I think everyone looks around the room, and you ask yourself what happened or what's going on. And we were all searching, searching for answers and trying to figure it out. I'm hoping now that we're past that, and we can move on. Let's play. Let's get ourselves back in the playoff race.
Burnside: When you win some games after the coaching change, was it kind of strange that it could happen so quickly?
Parise: No disrespect to Mike at all, because we played well for him, under him, and we just hit a wall. That's pro sports. Doesn't matter what sport you're in, if you stop winning, there are going to be changes, and usually it's going to be the coach first. That's the way it goes. He did a good job here. It's just for whatever reason -- I'm not saying he wasn't working -- but in here, it just wasn't working. I think, as a player, you look at yourself when a coach gets fired, and you feel like crap because it's a direct response to how we're playing on the ice. Again, I hope that we're past that, and this guy [Torchetti] has so much passion and life and energy behind the bench and in the room. It's awesome.
Burnside: Have you had time to think at all about the World Cup of Hockey? Roster announcements are coming on March 2.
Parise: Honestly, I really don't think about it yet. Of course, it's in the back of your mind, and once those rosters come out, I'm sure that there's going to be a little bit of buzz, and you'll think about it a little more. But right now, especially with what we've been going through, it's not like, 'I wonder if Kaner [Patrick Kane] and I are going to be on the same line?' No, I'm not thinking about that.
Burnside: Is it fair to say the hunger to have success in Toronto will burn pretty hot, given how things finished at the Sochi Olympics, where Team USA didn't win a medal?
Parise: I would imagine so. And I'm sure for a lot of teams too, but I know, just for us, there was a lot of disappointment from how things ended in Russia. I know it's not the Olympics, but [it's] still huge. I would love for us to have a great tournament there. It would be really good for us and good for hockey here.