Bred from same system, stars Parise and Toews play with similar style
Minnesota's Zach Parise and Chicago's Jonathan Toews came up through the same developmental hockey pipeline and both play with the same pure, high-effort style. But Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks, who lead Minnesota 2-1 in their second-round playoff series, have routinely gotten the best of Parise and the Minnesota Wild.
The Wild and attacking-minded forward Zach Parise (right) have had difficulty against the Blackhawks and defensive standout Jonathan Toews. Parise has only tallied four points in eight playoff games against Chicago.
Marilyn Indahl / USA TODAY Sports
By Phil ErvinFOX Sports North
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Dogged.
Zach Parise worked his way into the slot between Duncan Keith and Michael Rozsival, raised his stick in the air and got a piece of Ryan Suter's wrister to deflect it past Blackhawks netminder Corey Crawford. Turning deftly on his left skate blade and tilting as the puck clanged off the post, the Wild's never-say-die left winger swept it into the open net and ensured Minnesota a Game 3 victory.
After tying for the NHL points lead during the Stanley Cup Playoffs' opening round, Parise had been stymied, held to a lone assist during two losses in Chicago. "It was definitely frustrating at times," Parise said.
Friday during the Blackhawks' morning skate, the primary instigator of Parise's angst rarely stopped moving. When he wasn't whipping through a drill, Chicago captain Jonathan Toews usually had a puck on his stick, going through phantom progressions as he did for so many years on youth rinks in Winnipeg.
Three days prior, he'd been held to two of his team's 19 shots in a 4-0 Wild win that, for the moment, changed the complexion of the teams' Western Conference semifinal series.
"We've got to find a way to play with more energy," a frustrated Toews said afterward. "We'll take the next couple days to think about it."
But Toews and Parise, bred from the same systems of hockey development and a style of play that's as much about effort as it is skill, don't merely think.
Two different players have led their franchises into a head-to-head postseason dogfight for the second year in a row. One, a seasoned veteran who came home for love of his roots and a near nine-figure free-agent deal. The other, a 26-year-old mature beyond his years, wearing a "C" on his jersey and a pair of Cup rings on his hand for one of the NHL's most storied franchises.
But both emotional tone-setters took a similar yet staggered road to the Xcel Energy Center for Friday's Game 4 tilt.
First, a high school hockey powerhouse 50 miles south of St. Paul. Next, another located west of the Twin Cities in a town known for its collegiate hockey devotion and little else.
Friday night, they'll clash for a fourth time this postseason and ninth time in the past two playoffs. With Minnesota seeking to even the series and possessing the last line change during stoppages, the two may not blanket each other as often as they did in Games 1 and 2.
But they'll play the same way -- never stopping, always scrapping, every shift serving as a 30-60 second clinic in vehemence.
"There's a relentlessness, there's no question," Wild coach Mike Yeo said when asked to compare the two. "Both guys are fierce competitors."
In typical Joel Quenneville fashion, the Blackhawks coach put it more succinctly. "They both make guys around them better," he said, "and they like to win."
It started at Shattuck
Shattuck-St. Mary's School sits in Faribault, Minn., to the west of Interstate 35, an isolated beacon of national prep hockey excellence that's famously cranked out 57 NHL draft picks since 1995, according to its website.
Parise and Toews are two of them.
The former, who grew up in Minneapolis, spent seven years there, starting in the sixth grade, after his father and former NHLer J.P. Parise took over as the private institution's hockey director. In 2000 and 2001, his final two years in the school's midget AAA program, the younger Parise accumulated 340 points (146 goals) and twice earned MVP honors at the Mac's AAA hockey tournament in Calgary, Alberta.
Toews, a Winnipeg native who was selected in the 2003 WHL Bantam Draft but instead chose to attend Shattuck-St. Mary's, came along a few years later. He scored 110 points in his final year on campus.
Then, as now, both had particular nuances to their games that differed. But the pair of future big-league forwards were "almost identical" in the eyes of current director of hockey Tom Ward.
"I think that's what you get when you have these kinds of superstar players," Ward, who recently wrapped up his 15th season at Shattuck-St. Mary's, told FOX Sports North. "They're very similar cats with the way they go about their business. Of course, their ability is similar, but they're also both real humble and hard-working guys, team-oriented guys.
"They're not afraid to do the dirty work."
The pair only furthered that reputation on a national level at NCAA pucks powerhouse North Dakota. Each sandwiched two seasons in Grand Forks around donning their countries' colors at the world junior hockey championships.
Starting with a hat trick in his first-ever collegiate contest, Parise tallied 49 goals and 67 assists in 76 games with North Dakota from 2002-04. Toews led North Dakota to the Frozen Four in 2006 and 2007, finishing his college career with 40 goals and 85 helpers.
Current UND coach Dave Hakstol, an assistant when Parise was there, said they're the kind of players that can change an organization's culture.
But he and the storied UND program don't take any credit for that.
"They had that," Hakstol said. "Those are things that were naturally part of their makeup as players. They take such pride in being good in every area of the game -- check that, they want to be great in every area of the game -- and their work ethic is what . . . separates them from most players."
Parise and Toews' longtime multiyear participation at the international junior level paved the way for spotlight appearances on the world's most revered athletics stage. They represented the United States and Canada at each of the past two Winter Olympic Games.
All the while, the two developed a vigorous, two-way style that leads to points in big moments but is often difficult to quantify.
"They're both super passionate and prideful in a job well done," said Ward, who still keeps in touch with both and fishes with Parise during the NHL's offseason. "They know what's right and wrong and what's good hockey -- playing their tails off without crossing the line into a cheap shot -- and they stand for good hockey."
Said Wild center Erik Haula, another Shattuck-St. Mary's product: "Their work ethic and the attitude that they play with, the passion that they have for the game is similar."
New Jersey drafted Parise 17th overall in 2003, and he spent the first seven years of his NHL career there before signing a 13-year, $98 million deal with his hometown club two summers ago. Toews, meanwhile, was picked third overall by Chicago in 2006 and has spent each of his seven NHL campaigns in the Windy City.
He's received the better end of the deal so far, carrying Lord Stanley's Cup in 2010 and 2013 and winning last year's Frank J. Selke Trophy as the game's top defensive forward. The closest Parise has come to the Cup was a 4-2 finals loss to Los Angeles in 2012, his last season with the Devils.
So far, the Blackhawks have gotten the best of him in the postseason, too. His two points Tuesday brought him to a grand total of four in eight playoff games against Chicago the past two years.
Toews has had a hand in that. "That's why he's up for the Selke every year," Parise shrugged tersely before Game 2. "He's a good player."
But so is Parise, garnering attention this season as one of the game's most underrated forwards. Thanks to his diligence, Toews only has three points in the same span.
Parise will turn 30 this summer, so both he and Toews likely have several more chapters left in their respective narratives. But they're both written in the same aggressive, attacking nature that defines the pair's on and off-ice existence.
"They're gonna be the same way in real life walking down the street in jeans and a t-shirt as they are in the arena, and that's cool," said Ward, the pair's prep coach at Shattuck-St. Mary's. "There's nothing about those guys that's phony. You're getting who they are in spades.
"They've got 'it.' Whatever 'it' is, they've got it."