SUN Hockey Pool

Devil had due in Calgary

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:13 AM ET

Must be Christmas season, Zach Parise's in town.

He was skating yesterday morning on Saddledome ice, too.

Except the New Jersey Devils centre wasn't here vying for the Mac's Midget hockey tournament crown, which he won three times with a powerful Shattuck/St. Mary's team. He was here to play in the big show against the Calgary Flames, even though illness kept him out of the lineup in last night's game.

"Playing here was a lot of fun, that tournament's awesome," said Parise, as he recalled the Mac's. "For us, we'd play at home and have 200, 300 fans, and we'd come here, and there'd be a couple thousand. It was so exciting."

Parise made it pretty good to be in the stands watching, too.

Those Shattuck/St. Mary's teams were amazing -- playing with skill and determination and leaving a path of teams in their wake.

And for a couple of those titles, it was Parise -- the son of J.P. Parise, who spent 14 years in the NHL and skated in the 1972 Summit Series -- leading the charge. The Mac's championship games are played on Saddledome ice.

Twice Zach Parise was named tournament MVP. He holds the tournament record with an incredible 29 points in seven games, when he led the Sabres to their third-straight crown over the Christmas 2001 event.

The list of NHLers who'd played in the Mac's is more than 200, and includes the likes of Dany Heatley, Jarome Iginla, Claude Lemieux, Mike Modano, Kris Draper, Ryan Smyth, Scott Gomez, Trevor Linden, Simon Gagne, Sidney Crosby and Mike Vernon. But no player was as dominating as the centre chosen 17th overall by the Devils in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.

"It is humbling to hear that," said Parise with true humility. "When we came here, you'd hear about the great players who'd played here. But we had really good teams."

Midget hockey may not have the lustre it possessed in years past because of the number of age-eligible players in the junior ranks, but it was a chance to shine and see how he stacked up against a lot of fantastic players.

"You get exposed to the Canadian teams, Canadian players we didn't see too often," said Parise. "A lot of the top players were in junior, but it was a confidence booster."

Yet, that was just the tip of the iceberg for the 23-year-old forward.

After a couple of seasons at the University of North Dakota -- he was nominated for the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA player as a freshman -- along with two trips to the world juniors (he was named the tournament's top forward while leading USA to win the 2004 title) and one year in the minors, Parise finally arrived in the NHL.

He's proving he can be a standout with the big boys, too, despite his size -- he's generously listed as 5-ft.-11.

Heading into last night's clash against the Flames, Parise was tops on the Devils with 15 goals --ahead of Brian Gionta and John Madden with 11 -- and 35 points -- 10 ahead of Gionta.

Yet, Parise, who led the team with 31 goals and collected 62 points last year, remains humble.

"I've kinda bounced around -- played with everyone this year -- but coming off last year, I felt very good about the way I played and I was hoping to take it to another level," Parise said. "It's been going well for me, so far.

"I can't complain."


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