As a continuation of my favourite moments in franchise history, I think it’s worth mentioning a player who got us very far in the one season he led the team. Forget all of the negative feelings for right now, and just take a moment to remember the 2011-12 NHL season for the Devils.
#9 – A Short-Lived Captaincy that Turned a Team Around
The 2010-11 NHL season was an extremely disappointing one for the Devils. The first half of the year was sloppy and, to be blunt, terrible for a team who’s had great success in the past. Their record was 9-22-2 in the first half, being led by ex-Devil John MacLean as the head coach. To top it all off, in November of that season, they lost their up-and-coming superstar Zach Parise to a meniscus tear. That was the beginning of a great downfall for the Devils.
A late season push featuring Jacques Lemaire behind the bench proved to be fruitless. Although the Devils went 26-7-3 in the second half of the year, they ended the season out of the playoffs, with no captain (as they traded away Jamie Langenbrunner), and they did not have a definite head coach for the next season.
By October of 2011, that would all change. Pete DeBoer, coming off of a coaching job in Florida, found a new home with the Devils. And Zach Parise, who only played in 13 games, was elected to be the next captain of the New Jersey Devils.
And he did not disappoint.
The Devils got off to a shaky start, going 4-4-1 in the opening month of the season, and fans began to believe it was a new generation of losing for the team. But Zach Parise wouldn’t have it.
Consistently throughout the season, the team dipped above and below 8th place in the conference, so headed into the final stretch, their fate was very uncertain. Would it be the playoffs, like it had been for a majority of the past 20 years, or would the team fail to pull it together yet again?
Parise made sure that he could lead New Jersey to more than disappointment. The Devils finished off the season with 6 straight wins – the longest winning streak to close off the season that year. They were a part of the “100-point club” by the final game, and they had locked themselves into a #6 seed.
The first round was a very tough one. The Devils found themselves down 3-2 in the series headed into Game 6 against the Panthers, but once again, Zach Parise would not face a loss. The team forced a game 7 when Travis Zajac scored an overtime winner in front of the home crowd. But it was Game 7 that showed the true level of determination by a young and talented captain. Although they blew a 2 goal lead, and despite Parise’s lack of points, he successfully led the team to a win that seemed impossible. The rest of the playoffs was the same story. Parise racked up the points along with the other stars, and surprising players stepped up to the plate. After two series wins that many analysts and fans alike deemed impossible, the team found themselves against all odds in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 2003. This is the moment when Zach Parise proved that he was a worthy captain if he hadn’t done it before.
Ultimately, the Devils lost in the Finals. However, they were heavily pinned the underdogs once again and put up an intense fight. When it looked like they were getting swept, Parise scored an important goal that eventually led to a Game 5, and then a Game 6. Game 6 was truly the only game where it was extremely one-sided (besides Game 3) and the Devils did not stop working hard until the very end, something I really commend.
One of the best moments that can show Zach’s dedication and will to win is the waved-off goal in Game 1. Parise had pushed the puck over the line with his glove after fanning on a backhand opportunity that could’ve been the go-ahead goal for the Devils. I don’t have an exact quote, but I do remember him saying he wished the camera wasn’t rolling for that one second, and that when it gets down to it, he’d do anything to help his team win. This, in essence, sums up his playing style nicely – it might not be the prettiest (even though most of the time it is) but he puts in the effort and does everything in his power to get a game won.
While it only lasted a mere 82 regular season games, Parise not only was one of the top scorers on the team, but he led the bunch emotionally. He had a great attitude towards other players, fans, and even reporters. Even after a crushing loss in Game 6, he was willing to get interviewed and spoke his mind while not getting his emotions get the best of him. I can only recall one time he actually displayed anger on the ice or in the locker room (who could forget the waved off goal with 2.7 seconds left vs. the Islanders?).
This article is turning out to be a bit more of a season wrap up than it is a nod to Parise, but I think I’ve said what’s needed to be said. Parise had a special presence that was really lacking in 2010-11, and he’s an important addition to any team. He took a team that missed the playoffs and turned it into a team that made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. In fact, he was only the second captain to ever take the Devils to a Stanley Cup Final, him and good ol’ Scotty Stevens. That’s definitely worth mentioning. Even look where he is now – the Wild made the playoffs this season after finishing 24th in the league just the year before.
I don’t think anything I could say would do Zach Parise justice, but I gave it a shot. His effort, poise, attitude, and composure are unlike any other player in the NHL, and any team would be lucky to have him but to have him as their captain, the Devils were luckier than anyone else.