Last September, Zach Parise and his buddies took a dream golf trip to Scotland and Ireland.
“I played like crap,” he said with a laugh. “But it was an incredible experience.”
But when Parise returned home to Minnesota, he realized something was missing. He still wanted to play hockey. He wanted one last chance to finally lift the Stanley Cup.
“I was fully intending on being done playing, then I got back and you start seeing your buddies are leaving, training camps are starting,” Parise said Sunday morning following a short but intense Avalanche practice. “Then it was brought to my attention that I would be allowed to train and then play for half a year. And it was kind of my wife (Alisha) who pushed me to do it. She said, ‘You have a great opportunity, you might as well do it.’ I thought, ‘I’m going to give this a shot.’”
The Avs were eager to give the 39-year-old forward the chance, signing Parise to a one-year, $825,000 contract late last month. He was a free agent in limbo after playing the two previous seasons with the New York Islanders and then not signing with any team during the offseason.
Parise prepared for his return by working out, skating hard and playing a few adult league games with some of his former high school teammates from Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota, a prep school internationally known for its hockey development program.
“I skated a lot and trained a lot, just like I would in any offseason,” Parise said. “Just knowing that I would be coming back halfway through the season, I knew I had to catch up quickly so I did the best I could to get ready at home and be ready to step in.”
Parise didn’t provide specifics but said he’d been in contact with the Avalanche for a while.
“At that point, I wasn’t completely sure I was going to (play) again, but then I started skating and I was feeling really good,” he said.
Coach Jared Bednar said Parise “is in phenomenal shape.” He also said that the Avalanche’s upcoming, six-game, 12-day road trip will give Parise a chance to blend in with his new teammates. Colorado plays at the New York Rangers on Monday night.
“For Zach, to be able to get around all of our guys, 24-7 on a 12-day trip, I think that’s beneficial,” Bednar said.
Parise scored 21 goals for the Islanders last season and has 69 points over the past two years combined. When he makes his Avs debut Monday night, he’ll be the third-oldest player in the league, but Parise is also one of only 17 players who appeared in all 82 games in each of the past two seasons.
Beyond those recent credentials, Bednar likes the intangibles Parise brings to a talented team that won 13 times in 16 games before the extended All-Star Game break and has its sights on winning a second championship in the last three years.
“He’s a guy that’s been through it and is going to have a calm demeanor, and he’s a competitive guy that wants to win,” Bednar said. “It’s just another piece of leadership for our team, another guy who can have a calming influence on our room.
“I love the addition, right now. We’ll see how he plays. We’re obviously a little bit short on the forward side. … He can give us some things on the offensive side.”
The Avs have been thin at forward ever since they traded Tomas Tatar to the Seattle Kraken. Plus, Colorado has a hole to fill in its second line because Valeri Nichushkin is out indefinitely after entering the NHL/NHLPA Players Assistance Program. Parise is probably best as a bottom-six forward at this stage of his career, but he could be an option to fill in the second line right now.
“That is the need,” Bednar told The Post last week. “I like the way our eight ‘D’ are playing. Our goaltending is starting to really shape up and turn around. The forward depth and adding someone, like Val’s gone for a while and we don’t know. … It just seems like we’re always missing a piece or two.
“So adding some depth up front, I think it’s really important. I think that was identified early in the season. The guys we have are doing everything they can and playing really well, but to be able to add a versatile guy like Parise will really help our lineup keep slotting into the right spots and put our guys in the best position to have success.”
Parise made it clear Sunday that this will be his final season, and he believes he can finally win a championship with the Avs. Winning a Stanley Cup is the biggest missing piece to a solid career that includes 429 goals and 879 points in 1,224 career NHL games with the New Jersey Devils, Wild and Islanders. Parise reached the Cup Final with the Devils in 2012.
“Nothing is guaranteed but I wanted to put myself in a spot where (I) have a good chance,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for. For me, that was the biggest draw, coming here.”
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