SSM instrumental in Parise’s career path

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Less than an hour away from the Xcel Energy Center, the new home for Minnesota Wild forward Zach Parise is the rink where Parise shined as a star for Shattuck-St. Mary’s. The prep school in Faribault, Minn., has turned into a hockey hotbed for high school players, and the school has Parise to thank for that.

Parise spent two seasons playing at SSM, from 2000-2002. During the 2001-02 season, Parise scored a whopping 178 points (77 goals, 101 assists) in 67 games with the Sabres. It was a sign that perhaps Parise had what it took to play hockey at the highest level, and those close to him at Shattuck could see it early on.

“There’s no guarantee with anything when you’re that young,” said Tom Ward, Parise’s coach at SSM. “You could definitely see guys that would have a chance if things keep going their way and they don’t have a severe injury or something like that. Zach was definitely one of those guys, for sure.”

Shattuck-St. Mary’s is unlike any other hockey program in the state of Minnesota. In fact, there are few schools in the country that rival the rigorous, lengthy schedules and numerous hours of ice time offered at SSM. That’s a big reason why Parise, a Minnesota native, enrolled for two seasons at the school.

“I learned a lot about the right way to play the game,” Parise said Monday as the Wild introduced him and defenseman Ryan Suter at a press conference. “I had some really good coaches there. It really is a special place down there.”

But his father also had a big role in Parise ending up at Shattuck. J.P. Parise played for the Minnesota North Stars, among other teams, and later went on to coach the North Stars. After coaching in the NHL, Parise served as the prep coach and director of hockey at SSM. Naturally, his sons Zach and Jordan went on to play for the Sabres.

Before Zach Parise left his mark on Shattuck-St. Mary’s his father, J.P., was helping turn the school into the powerhouse that it currently is.

“He was one of the founding fathers,” Ward said of J.P. Parise. “He took over the program from Craig Norwich, who started it, and did a great job molding the thing and putting it together. … J.P., he spent a lot of time and energy here and made this thing what it was. We’re just here carrying on and keeping it trucking.”

Many notable NHL players have called Shattuck-St. Mary’s home, including Parise. Perhaps the name most often associated with the school is Penguins star Sidney Crosby, who spent just one year at SSM but also helped put the program on the map as he rose to stardom in the NHL. Crosby and Parise didn’t overlap at SSM, however, as Crosby played from 2002-03, when Parise was a freshman at the University of North Dakota.

Chay Genoway became the first SSM alum to play for the Minnesota Wild when he appeared in one game last season. Parise now has the chance to be the first regular contributor in Wild history to emerge from Shattuck-St. Mary’s.

“Those guys that are playing in the National Hockey League, whenever they get a chance to mention the fact that they had played and went to school at Shattuck-St. Mary’s, we couldn’t buy that kind of advertising and that kind of marketing for our school and our hockey program,” Ward said. “Is it going to be great for us here at Shattuck and for me personally? Yeah, for sure. But the greatest benefit is going to be to Minnesota hockey, to people that are Wild fans and to youth hockey.”

While playing for SSM, Parise and Suter crossed paths several times. Back then, Suter was playing for the Madison Capitols, an independent AAA hockey team from Wisconsin. He also played for Culver Academy in 2000-2001, a team Shattuck-St. Mary’s views as a rival.

Like their schools, Suter and Parise became somewhat of rivals at the time as well. The two ultimately signed with the Wild last week because they wanted to play on the same team as friends. But back then, there was no love lost.

“We hated each other playing,” Suter said Monday. “We would battle, for sure. … He was the top player for Shattuck and I was the top player for Madison. We’d have to beat each other to win.”

A decade later, Shattuck-St. Mary’s still holds a special place in Parise’s heart. He keeps in touch with Ward and said he and his former coach still go fishing together in the offseason. And all of Parise’s groomsmen in his upcoming wedding are friends he met while at Shattuck.

“A lot of memories playing there,” Parise said. “I had an unbelievable experience playing there.”

The Sabres hang up the jerseys of all the alumni that eventually make it to the NHL. Near the front of the pack, next to the likes of Crosby and Chicago’s Jonathan Toews, is Parise’s red No. 9 Devils sweater. Ward said the school won’t replace it with a green Wild jersey, instead keeping the New Jersey sweater framed and hanging as a reminder of Parise’s ascent to the player he has become.

Parise definitely honed his hockey craft during his two seasons under the tutelage of Ward at Shattuck-St. Mary’s. The leadership that resulted in Parise being named captain in New Jersey and alternate captain with the Wild, that’s been there from the beginning.

“He’s the same player now that he was then,” Ward said. “He was an energetic, hard-working, humble kid. He hasn’t changed a lot. That’s one of the most endearing qualities about him is the kid hasn’t changed a lot from when he was 15 years old. …

“He’s going to do anything he possibly can to help that group. It doesn’t always have to be about him. He doesn’t have to score or he doesn’t have to be the guy. He just wants to help them win and he wants to be out there trying to help the guys win.”

Follow Tyler Mason on Twitter.