Now its on.
The Stanley Cup ended its coast to coast
voyage, as finally it was thrust skyward by Los Angeles Kings Captain
Dustin Brown after The Kings dispatched The New Jersey Devils in Game 6
to capture the most famous and recognizable trophy in all of sport.
focus quickly switched following the marvel of a group of men skating
around their home rink with a 35 pound prize above their heads; so, Mr.
Zach Parise, what will you do with your future when July 1 comes about?
eyes of the hockey landscape are all curious, maybe none more than the
fanbase of the Minnesota Wild- well wait. Maybe its more anyone with any sort of investment in the Minnesota Wild. Fans, Front Office, Owners.
Parisemania in Minnesota is at roughly a fever pitch now, as somehow its become a focal point in the Twin Cities market where, "State of Hockey" marketing slogan aside, The Wild and the NHL is largely a secondary fixture against the more established and monstrous Minnesota Vikings and Minnesota Twins coverage, and also because many of the local talking heads just aren't "hockey guys." No matter how its perceived or conveyed, The Wild just don't get much attention right or wrong.
Things have changed; a "Parise Watch" has manifested itself into a daily talking point. Mike Russo is continually interrogated about what he knows. Zach's Father J.P. was a guest on Paul Allen's KFAN radio show and in true tactless PA fashion, was asked to spill the beans. Lou Nanne told the listeners of Dan Barreiro's radio show Tuesday that Wild Owner Craig Leipold is prepared to pay Parise so much money that it would bail out Greece twice over. Even the triassic and borderline delirious Sid Hartman has little notes about Zach Parise in his, uh..."column." Hell, I of no insiding knowledge nor owner of any sources, get asked about the whole hysteria- maybe its because I'm just a hockey nerd with fluent knowledge of internet outlets.
General Manager Chuck Fletcher has decreed that "NHL Talent" will be added to the current lump of clay of a roster, so the sights are set on Parise, with good reason. He's young, near or just entering his prime, and is everything in a player this team desires; he's skilled, he works extremely hard, he's competitive, and he's got great character. The fact that the formative years of Parise's life were rooted deeply in Minnesota is simply a bonus, but does drive the desire for the fanbase's want of Zach in a Wild sweater.
That same provincial tie has created, in a way, a "divine right" complex also- the "he should come home" argument, or the "he wants to play in Minnesota" rumormongering you hear, complete with anonymous sources.
"Well he built a home in Orono with his wife."
"He grew up playing hockey with Bloomington Native Tom Gilbert, so there's a tie."
In a way, a weird version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" has been created.
So because he's from Minnesota, and grew up here means he wants to come and play here, or that the Wild have a half-step on whatever competition they'll face for his services (the other 29 teams, including the Rangers, which Parise recently poo-pooed)? Look, I see the argument that will be laid out at Zach's feet: Minnesota has the cap space to bail out Europe (and apparently a willingness to guarantee a 13 year deal), 7 high profile prospects turning pro amongst other potential NHLers which could spell long term success, that Detroit is aging and has question marks, and ultimately all it takes is getting into the playoffs because anything can happen then- the LA Kings (nevermind they underachieved all year) were the #8 seed that barely sneaked in.
Its convincing indeed; especially when Fletcher and Leipold turn to Zach after the well-produced power point presentation and say that "we feel you can and will make us into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender for however you are in a Minnesota Wild Sweater. You can be the face not just the franchise, but the flag bearer for what will be Minnesota's rise to continued prominence in the NHL."
Hell, I'm ready to run through a wall after just writing that.
However, I can't help but think of Matt Cullen. The Moorhead Native had been courted in Free Agency by the previous regime in years past, but chose to sign elsewhere until he made the leap and signed in the Chuck Fletcher era. Cullen admitted that in years past, where he was roughly the same age as Zach Parise is now, that he didn't feel like he was comfortable or capable to handle the added attention and demands that would come from being "the hometown guy"- the pushing and pulling for his attention or presence, the ticket requests, the notoriety, etc.
Now, in absolutely no way am I saying that Matt Cullen and Zach Parise are one in the same, but I think there is merit to Cullen's explanation as to why he didn't slip on a Wild sweater earlier- in any other city there is a certain anonymity once you leave the ice surface; you can be another face in the crowd to an extent. It takes a special breed to be able to not just handle it, but continue to thrive in a professional sense while juggling the public persona.
With Zach Parise, it would be amplified by roughly...a trillion. Not just the pressure of playing and justifying what surely will be a posh and tony contract and the pursuit of a personal goal (The Stanley Cup), but the instantaneous transformation into the figurehead for an organization whose public presence is firmly behind a few other middling sports teams in the market, and likely toward the bottom nationally.
We need not look any further than Joe Mauer, who is often straddling the line of contempt by the court of public opinion despite being locally grown. Immensely skilled, but because of his makeup as a player and a gargantuan contract, he'll never live up to the exhorbitant expectations placed on him. Maybe the worst quality of the Minnesota sports fans is the
capacity to turn dime on those we pay to see; a wonton ability to get
vicious and discompassionate in willy nilly fashion, despite the inanity of wearing the hats, shirts, and jerseys of the team.
What if Zach Parise sees that when he's home in the Summers? And what he decides that he isn't in a place where he can successfully juggle the on-ice performance with the inevitable time constraints and public exploitation (for the lack of a better term) that will stem from his connection to the Mother Land?
In the end, it may not be about the team he'll play for, it may be about the place he'll play in.