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J.P. Parise earned deep respect from his Islanders teammates

J.P. Parise, left, looks on during a playoff

J.P. Parise, left, looks on during a playoff series against the Rangers. Photo Credit: AP

The tributes for J.P. Parise poured out this past week in many shapes, from varied directions. Along with being an Islanders icon, the man who died Wednesday night at the age of 73 was remembered as a world-class player, a proud adopted Minnesotan, a standout coach, a first-rate hockey dad and a guy you just loved being around.

The bottom line is, he sure was much more than someone who just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Parise was the type who made it the right place and the right time, by his talents and his bearing. The Islanders knew that in 1975, when he scored the overtime goal that forever changed the arc and identity of the franchise.

Truth is, as he said after scoring 11 seconds into the extra session at Madison Square Garden, he actually was in the wrong place that time.

In the delirious Islanders locker room after the stunning series-clinching goal that night, he explained that he and linemate Jude Drouin -- both of whom arrived in deals from the Minnesota North Stars two days apart -- had worked on the play, except not the way it unfolded.

"When he gets the puck in the corner, I usually go behind the net," Parise explained back then. "But this time I decided to stay in front because nobody checked me.

"It's like a big dream," he said.

Forty years later, it is clear that Parise's goal encouraged Islanders fans to be dreamers. That victory, and the inspired playoff run that followed, showed that there was something special about that franchise. The feeling never has left, which is what is making this final season at Nassau Coliseum so passionate and poignant for the team's fans.

Parise's goal was a signal to never give up (he and Drouin had been on the ice at 13:41 of the third period, when Steve Vickers erased the last of what had been the Islanders' three-goal lead). In fact, the mere acquisition of the veteran left winger by Bill Torrey that January was a sign that the fledgling team -- only two years removed from setting an NHL record for futility -- believed there is no time like the present, and that tomorrow was going to be even better.

In retrospect, that trade, that goal, those playoffs started Torrey and Al Arbour on their way to the Hall of Fame and nudged the Islanders toward four consecutive Stanley Cups.

"We were a good team, we had really good leadership. But when we got those two guys, especially J.P. because he had played on Team Canada, he just brought a legitimacy," said Glenn "Chico'' Resch, the No. 1 goalie that spring, a member of the 1980 title team and a close friend of Parise's for the rest of his life.

"He would always say funny things to loosen everybody up. One night I was having a rough night and he said, 'Chico, you appear very difficult to hit tonight.' I said, 'You're right, J.P.,' " Resch said. "Or he would say to the forwards, like Bobby Nystrom, 'Bobby, your shot sounds good tonight, hitting the glass and the boards.' He had a wicked sense of humor, but it was on the fine line of having a message."

Resch recalled Parise entertaining other players' children by making puppets out of hockey socks and said it was clear that J.P. and his wife, Donna, loved life and each other. "He brought that dimension to our locker room, too," the former goalie said.

After he scored his most famous goal, Parise reflected on his good fortune: "Some people figured I was over the hill, but the Islanders gave me a new lease on life."

Although Parise was traded from the Islanders to the Cleveland Barons in 1978, his former teammates never stopped treating him like one of the family. That was especially true after they learned the severity of his lung cancer diagnosis.

"Who doesn't like J.P.?" said Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin (whose brother Jean was included in the Cleveland deal), having spoken to Parise on the phone for an hour in late November.

Judging by the comments from all corners of the hockey world this past week, it was hard to find anyone who didn't like Parise, the player and the guy. There were stories about how gritty and emotional he was for Canada in the historic 1972 Summit Series against the mighty Soviets; about how he coached Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews and Kyle Okposo at the Shattuck-St. Mary's prep school in Faribault, Minnesota; about how he enjoyed being on the Minnesota Wild's trip last season to see his son Zach become the highest-scoring Parise in NHL history.

Zach left his team Tuesday with J.P. in the final days of hospice care. When he returned Friday, he told reporters, "My dad probably would have been mad at me" for missing a game.

"No one in the league respects everyone as much as Zach does," Resch said. "He got that from J.P."

And a whole lot of the respect that the Islanders' crest commands, that comes from J.P., too.


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