With his Minnesota Wild one of the hottest teams in the league right now, star forward Zach Parise tells ESPN.com's Katie Strang about his return home, the Wild's playoff chances and what that phone call to Devils GM Lou Lamoriello was like last July in this week's edition of the New York Minute.
Strang: What's been the key for your team's success lately?
Parise: Earlier in the year, we were bouncing around lines a lot and now we're finally, we're getting some consistency with lines. Guys are starting to play much better together as a line. We have production from a lot of our lines, our [defense] is playing well ... we're just playing well, you know what I mean? We're just playing well as a team.
Strang: How would you describe this group? What's the best way to characterize the team's identity?
Parise: That's something we're trying to establish. We're trying to establish an identity. We've been playing pretty stingy defense and not giving up too much, and our transition game has been good. I would say our identity is playing hard on the puck in the offensive zone. That's really been a big difference for us from the beginning of the season.
Strang: How has it been to play back home? I can't even imagine how excited your dad [former NHL player J.P. Parise] must be.
Parise: [Laughs] Yeah, he's really excited. It's been a lot of fun. It was a change, for sure, coming from New Jersey. When you play there, that's all you know. But it's been a good change; it's been fun. I really enjoy it. Winning helps. Winning helps everything, but I've had a really good time.
Strang: Any guys out west that, playing against them now, you have a newfound appreciation for?
Parise: There's a lot of guys [like that] but, you know how good [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg are, but then you play against him and your line is matched against them and you really appreciate how good they are. A guy we played [recently], Dallas' Jamie Benn. He's a guy that you don't hear much about because of the market they're in when you're out East. You don't hear enough stuff about the Stars, but I didn't realize he was that good of a player. He's a great player.
Strang: Heard [Dallas'] Loui Eriksson is also among the most underrated.
Parise: Great player, too. A lot of those guys you don't see. You hear about them but [until you play against them], you're like, "Yeah, these guys are great players."
Strang: I remember [agent Wade Arnott] saying it was important to you for you and Ryan [Suter] to sign identical deals last July, even if it meant leaving money on the table. Why was that?
Parise: Just for us to go in on an even platform. Neither one of us was looking to get an extra million on top of the other guy. We felt it would just be fair and make it easier for everyone else if we just went in with the same thing and leave it at that.
Strang: How tough was that phone call to [Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello]?
Parise: Oh, that was tough. That was really hard. Just because of what type of impact he's had on my career, how good he was to me the whole time in New Jersey. You never want to make that call again. That was hard, but Lou was really good about it. He understood everything. He knew it was a tough call for me. He made it that much easier for me.
Strang: Is part of you glad that you have some more time until that first game against the Devils, or would you rather get it out of the way?
Parise: Both. I guess I have mixed feelings. When that game was crossed off the schedule, a part of me was [thinking] that you kinda ... you want to do it and get it over with. And then part of me was thinking maybe it's not so bad to wait a full calendar year to do it. I mean, I don't know if you saw, but when we went down to Nashville it was pretty hostile going back there when [former Predator Ryan Suter] came back there. Guess you have to do it, have to face the music.
Strang: That run you had with Jersey last year, making it to the Cup finals, does that make you want to get back there that much more now?
Parise: Yeah. Oh, of course. You get there, you get a taste of it, what it's like, you come up a little short, you want to get back there as soon as you can and get another crack at it. So, hopefully we'll find ourselves there again but that experience was unbelievable, learning about what it takes to get there, what all comes along with getting you there. It's a pretty different thing than just your normal regular-season games. Even the normal playoff games, it's a whole different thing.
Strang: Do you think this Wild team has a chance to surprise some people in the playoffs?
Parise: We've been playing really well of late. I believe so. You saw how it goes last year. You get a few favorable matchups and you get a hot goalie or things come together. You had a sixth seed and an eighth seed in the finals last year. More than ever, it's about getting in. If you look at both us and L.A., home ice didn't really make that much of a difference. Everything is so even now. It's about getting into the playoffs. And everyone's got a great chance.