Parise says Wild not there yet
OXBOW, N.D. — Zach Parise was 250 miles away from the Twin Cities and Xcel Energy Center on Friday morning at the Oxbow Country Club, but the Minnesota Wild left winger felt right at home.
Parise, a former University of North Dakota standout, was in the Red River Valley playing a round of golf as part of the Cully’s Kids Celebrity Weekend.
The weekend’s festivities help raise funds for the Cullen Children’s Foundation chaired by Parise’s former teammate Matt Cullen, who now plays for the Nashville Predators, and Cullen’s wife, Bridget.
Parise has become a regular at the Celebrity Weekend the last 10 years it has operated and is a big hit with the kids who attend the event every year. He knows many on a first-name basis.
“They do such a great job with this event,” Parise said. “It’s always the same people year in and year out, and they do a great job of bringing people together. Of course it’s all for a great cause too. What their foundation has been able to do in 10 years is incredible.”
Cullen and Parise were teammates on the Wild during 2012-13 season and continue to work together in charitable endeavors.
“Zach has always been great to us,” Cullen said. “He really gets it and knows what these events are all about. The kids get really excited to see him every year.”
This year marks the final Celebrity Weekend for the event, which wraps up today with a picnic from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Newman Outdoor Field and a Silent and Live Auction Social at 7 p.m. at Usher’s House in Moorhead.
Before golfers hit the course Friday, Cullen thanked the crowd of roughly a few hundred people for their support.
“It has become a family reunion,” Cullen said. “It’s great to see all the familiar faces.”
In a few months, Parise — who turns 30 next month — will be back on the ice gearing up for his 10th season in the National Hockey League.
Parise posted 29 goals and 27 assists in 67 games for the Wild, who advanced to the Western Conference semifinals, losing the series 4-2 against the Chicago Blackhawks.
“Last year we had an exciting run in the playoffs, so getting back there will be the goal. But with all the great teams out there it will be tough just to get in the playoffs,” Parise said.
The Wild have made the playoffs two straight years since signing Parise and Ryan Suter to lucrative contracts when both were free agents following the 2011-12 season. Each year the Wild have been eliminated by the Blackhawks.
“There were a few games that we lost in that series that we thought we should have won,” Parise said of the conference semifinals. “I think we showed we can play with them, but with the way the playoffs are set up, Chicago is a team we are going to have to get through. Teams like St. Louis and Chicago are going to be there every year, and we need to get that level before we can knock those teams out of the playoffs.”
Minnesota has salary cap space to add talent this offseason via free agency and could be active in the trade market as well.
The Wild have been linked to unrestricted free agent Thomas Vanek, who plays left wing. Vanek played at the University of Minnesota and was a member of the Gophers’ 2003 national championship team. He totaled 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) last season playing with Buffalo, Montreal and the New York Islanders.
The free-agent signing period begins Tuesday.
Last season, Minnesota ranked 24th with 2.43 goals per game.
“Every team needs scorers, and we were a team that didn’t put up a lot of points,” Parise said. “We played well defensively. So if we had some scoring, I think it will go a long way in making our team better.”