GRAND FORKS, N.D. — The sound of the puck hitting the boards echoes through the Ralph Engelstad Arena. North Dakota coach Dean Blais instinctively turns toward the ice.
“Can you see who it is?” he asks his visitors. “Is it Zach?”
It is. Sioux freshman center Zach Parise is alone on the ice in his street clothes, cap and sneakers with his gloves and stick, shooting pucks at an empty goal.
One week after hockey practice started, Blais already knew that his star recruit wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to get some ice time.
“It’s my normal routine,” Parise says. “It’s what I like to do. I come here between class periods to shoot some pucks. It’s the way I grew up.”
One might think that Parise, son of former NHL star J.P. Parise and one of the most heavily recruited players in the country, might be nervous about the situation in which he finds himself.
After all, the 5-foot-11, 180-pound, 18-year-old center from Faribault, Minn., is expected to help one of the most successful programs in the country rebound from a disappointing losing season.
“There’s only one reason I’m here and it’s to help out this team,” Parise says matter of factly.
Picked by nine of 10 coaches as the WCHA’s preseason rookie of the year, a player of Parise’s caliber creates high expectations among coaches, teammates, fans and the media. But that doesn’t faze him.
“I have higher expectations for myself than probably anyone,” he says.
There’s also the pressure of playing on a new team at a higher level of competition in front of 12,000 fans at the $100 million Engelstad Arena.
“I don’t feel any pressure,” he says. “Coming in here, it’s a new level and it’s obviously going to take some adjustment and it’s going to take a while for me to get used to things. But I think it’s gone pretty well so far.”
Blais isn’t shy about comparing Parise to the likes of Neal Broten and Tony Hrkac, two of college hockey’s all-time greats. Parise takes it in stride.
“It’s an honor to be compared to people that have had that much success,” he says.
In making the comparison, Blais says Parise is faster, stronger, quicker and has a better shot.
“He’ll come in and check you, too,” Blais adds.
Blais also says of Parise, “The guys who play with him will get rich.”
So far, those guys have been sophomore forwards Quinn Fylling and Brandon Bochenski, last season’s WCHA rookie of the year. Blais predicts that Bochenski will score 20 to 30 goals with Parise centering the line.
Parise truly seems unaffected by all the hype. He handles the media, the high expectations and the pressure like a seasoned pro. That all could change after Oct. 11 when the Fighting Sioux begin their season against Canisius at the Xerox College Hockey Showcase in Buffalo, N.Y.
But for now, Parise is focused on getting ready to play hockey, and his coaches and teammates have no doubts about his ability to do that.