Parise says UND team area is 'better than every NHL locker room'
ST. PAUL—In late November, Zach Parise walked to the northeast corner of Ralph Engelstad Arena, just as he did on a daily basis during his two seasons as a hockey player at the University of North Dakota.
But when he got the ground level, he was in for a surprise.
The UND hockey locker room area has been completely re-made since he turned pro in 2004 and the NHL and Olympic star hadn't been back since those major renovations occurred in the summer of 2014.
"It's better than every NHL locker room," Parise said. "You know what I mean? It's ridiculous. They're pretty spoiled up there. It's really nice."
Parise, who missed the first half of the season recovering from back surgery, used the time off to return to his alma mater. He attended a UND-Union game and watched from a suite.
Parise said one element he enjoyed about the renovated locker room was all of the program's history that's encorporated on the walls.
"I thought they did a really good job," he said. "I remember when I was there, the pictures we had up there of former players. I loved seeing that stuff when I walked in there. I thought they did a really good job of honoring former players. It was really neat to see a lot of pictures of guys I played with."
Parise's image also is in several spots in the locker room—the NHL players' wall, the Olympic wall and the NHL Draft wall.
Parise is hoping to add it to one more spot some day—the Stanley Cup champions wall.
The Wild had an average start to the season without him, going 20-16-3, but since Parise returned to the lineup, they are 8-2-2.
Parise said before the game Friday, Feb. 2, with the Vegas Golden Knights that he's starting to feel great.
"The first game back was like 100 mph," he said. "Everything was pretty fast. It slowly, progressively, slowed down and slowed down. Even just handling the puck at a high pace. . those things are hard to replicate on your own or even in practice. That took a little bit as well, but it's pretty good now."
Wild coach Bruce Boudreau also has noticed a difference.
"He's probably in better shape now," Boudreau said. "That's probably the thing I notice the most. He moved back to left wing (Friday), so we'll see if he gets a chance to handle the puck a little more."
Parise said being out of the lineup wasn't initially frustrating, but became that way at the end.
"The first four or five weeks, honestly, I was just so happy that I wasn't in pain anymore that I didn't care," Parise said. "It got frustrating toward the end. Once you feel like you're closer and you start skating, it gets slow."
But he enjoyed getting a chance to return to Grand Forks.
"It was great," he said. "I got to see a lot of people I haven't seen in awhile."
Parise also said he's enjoyed watching so many former UND players join him in the NHL ranks. A total of 20 have played in the NHL so far this season.
"You feel like you know them, whether you actually know them or not," said Parise, who worked out with NHL All-Star Game MVP Brock Boeser during the summer. "You know of the guys who went to North Dakota and you feel like you have that connection. It's always cool and it's great for the program."