The answer was vintage Zach Parise.
“We mucked it up,’’ the Wild veteran said with a smile after his TRIA team defeated Jack Links 5-2 in Da Beauty League semifinals on Monday night, employing a Lemaire-esque defensive effort that resulted in the fewest goals allowed in the offense-heavy four-on-four league this summer.
The light moment provided a respite from a stormy five-month stretch for the Wild and their leading scorer. In April, the team’s six-year streak of playoff appearances ended with the Wild limping into the offseason. The team scored only 2.56 goals per game in 2018-19, which ranked 27th among the 31 NHL teams. The Wild was shut out 11 times and went 16-18-7 a home, including losses in 13 of its final 16 games at Xcel Energy Center.
Parise led the Wild with 28 goals and 61 points in 74 games while missing six of the final seven because of a knee injury. It was a bounce-back season from a 2017-18 campaign in which he was limited to 42 games because of back surgery, but the non-playoff finish had the 35-year-old wondering how quickly the Wild can rebuild and return to the postseason. He’s entering the eighth year of a 13-year, $98 million contract.
“You hope that it’s not going to be something where it’s a few years of taking it on the chin and missing playoffs,’’ Parise said in April.
Then came the Wild’s biggest offseason news on July 30, when owner Craig Leipold fired often-criticized General Manager Paul Fenton after a tumultuous 14 months on the job. Leipold, team president Matt Majka and adviser Mike Modano are directing the search for a new GM, and Parise sees the change as a chance for the Wild to move forward.
“We’re all looking forward to seeing who’s going to be hired and what direction they’re looking to go with this organization,’’ he said Monday. “It was shocking, but at the same time it’s exciting to see what the future has for us.’’
Parise’s immediate future includes Wednesday’s 7 p.m. championship game in Da Beauty League in which Team TRIA faces Team RBC at Braemar Arena in Edina. At stake will be the John Scott Cup, a beer keg trophy named in honor of the former Wild enforcer and All-Star Game MVP. Parise sees the intensity in the lighthearted league ramping up this week.
“When you’ve got something on the line, everything tightens up and guys play a little harder, regardless if it’s summer hockey,’’ he said. “That’s our nature.’’
Summer hockey gives way to training camp in September, and Parise described his health as, “Great. I feel really good. Excited.’’
The return to health of defenseman Matt Dumba and center Mikko Koivu will be key for the Wild, too. Dumba tore a pectoral muscle during a fight in December and missed the remainder of the season, while Koivu was shelved by anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus tears in February.
“We missed those guys. That’ll be very helpful for us,’’ Parise said. “It’ll be a ripple effect down the lineup with what those guys do.’’
The Wild’s free agent signing of veteran forward Mats Zuccarello also has Parise enthused for the season.
“When you have a guy who can make plays like he does as a passer, all the scorers get excited about that and want to play with him,’’ he said. “He’s going to fit in well and is what we need.’’