Parise having Devil of a time

RANDY SPORTAK, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

NEWARK, NJ -- Fifty goals is an attainable target for Zach Parise.

He's among the NHL's biggest breakout stories of the season.

Yet, the New Jersey Devils forward is clearly second fiddle on this team.

His chase for a franchise mark -- no Devil has reached the 50-goal plateau -- is taking a back seat these days to Martin Brodeur's drive for destiny.

"A little bit," Parise admitted. "That's OK. It's great to be part of something like that. I remember when Patrick Roy broke the (wins) record and that was great, but you never thought you'd be part of something like that.

"He'll break one, but hopefully he'll break the shutout record this year, too."

Brodeur is on the cusp of becoming the NHL's all-time leader in wins and shutouts, but he isn't the only star shining in New Jersey.

Parise may be the best player nobody talks about. Heading into tonight's meeting with the Calgary Flames, his 38 goals is surpassed only by Alex Ovechkin, and he's third in league scoring with 78 points, having already set new career-highs for goals and assists.

The big mark, though, is 50, so close he can see it like the bright lights and towers of New York City, just across the Hudson River.

"You want to get there, want to accomplish that, but I don't like to think about it," Parise said. "People like to talk about it, write about it, but I don't like to talk about it. If it happens, anyone would love to score 50 goals, but I'm just going to keep doing the same stuff, keep doing the same things, and hopefully they keep going in."

That Parise is a standout in the NHL shouldn't come as a big shock to hockey fans in Calgary, who witnessed his exploits as a teenager. A solid case can be made he was the best player the prestigious Mac's Midget Tournament has ever seen.

He led the Shattuck-St. Mary's squad to three-straight tourney championships. He was named tournament MVP twice and dominated the games.

"It's funny, knowing you were from Calgary, I was anticipating a question about the Mac's Tournament," he said with an ounce of disappointment to be talking history. "I always loved going to that tournament. We won it three times in a row and had so much fun. The stands were packed at the Max Bell and Father Bauer, they were always cheering and yelling. We were pretty fortunate to have good teams and won it.

"It was a blast. We'd never seen anything like that at that age. To get that kind of media coverage for a Midget tournament is amazing."

Of course, when you win as handily as Parise's teams did in the Stampede City, the experience is all the better.

As for exactly what he's doing so special this year, though, he can't pinpoint it.

Sure, it's his fourth NHL season, so the development phase is now more in the past and it's about putting all he's learned into practice along with linemates Jamie Langenbrunner and Travis Zajac.

"Are my shot totals even higher? I don't even know," he replied to a few possibilities mentioned. "I try to shoot as much as I can when I get a good chance. I don't like to pass them up.

"I don't think there's anything specific. It's just the comfort of it being my fourth year in the league, and the progression.

"Year by year, I think I'm a little more patient with the puck. I think I'm making better decisions, and that goes with being more comfortable. Your first couple of years, you don't want to make mistakes, but then you get more comfortable, want to try different things, different moves."

New Jersey has probably been the league's hottest team since mid-November. A hiccup of an outing against the New York Islanders, an out-of-character 7-3 loss, snapped a run of 18 wins in 22 outings.

Talk about having fun.

"Exactly. That one year, my first year, we won 15 in a row going into the playoffs," Parise said. "This year, it seems we win in streaks and when we lose, they don't pile on. We'll lose one, but win four. For whatever reason, we don't have a cold spell and lose four or five in a row. When we lose, we seem to get back at it. It's been one of those seasons for us."

All those wins fly in the face of what was supposed to happen this season for the Devils. The Atlantic Division title is pretty much in their hands.

And when Brodeur went down for close to a dozen weeks with a triceps injury that required surgery, they were supposed to disappear like a Sopranos character on the wrong side of the crew.

Instead, they were among the league's best teams, with unheralded Scott Clemmensen holding the fort in goal.

"I don't think anybody felt we had to change anything without Marty because we'd been playing the same way for years," Parise said. "We didn't change anything, and there was no reason to change anything. We got good goaltending when Marty was down. And I think it was one of those things when the best player goes down, the team comes together more than it had.

"I guess we used it and started to play a lot better."

Finally, Flames fans will see what the fuss is all about. Actually, there never was much fuss.

Unless you have the Centre Ice package or a permanent seat at a sports bar, catching a Devils game is a tall order in Calgary. After all, the networks prefer to show the Rangers when airing a team from the area.

"I think people would be surprised at how aggressive we are," Parise said. "We have a reputation as a team that sits back, traps and tries to win 1-0, but we forecheck just as hard as anyone in the league.

"I think we play a lot more exciting game than people give us credit for."


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