When Minnesota Wild winger Zach Parise looks back on the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, he mostly recalls the good things -- scoring a team-high four goals in the tournament, including the game-tying score with 24 seconds left in the gold medal game. He remembers the warmth of the fans all over the city and the honor it was to represent the U.S. But still, there's one memory that haunts him. He hasn't forgotten the sting of losing that last game to Canada, his team's only loss of the tournament. It's a memory that Parise and Team USA will undoubtedly take to Sochi, Russia, in February as they try to do what they were an overtime goal away from achieving four years ago.
Unlike most Olympic hopefuls, however, Parise and his fellow NHLers cannot spend their days solely focused on the Games. They have their day jobs to worry about, and the selection of Team USA's Olympic roster is largely out of their control. A USA Hockey management group of NHL general managers and executives has been scouting players all season and will announce its team on Jan. 1, 2014. "We get so consumed with our [NHL] season that honestly, I'm just not thinking that far ahead," Parise says.
In the off-season, however, players do have a chance to consider their Olympic dreams and the summer before the Winter Games is a time to lay the building blocks to glory. Parise's off-season began sooner than he had hoped, as the Minnesota Wild were bounced from the postseason by the Chicago Blackhawks after just five games. When considering his training options last summer, though, Parise decided to make a change. For the last three years, his routine had included a heavy load of cardio -- a lot of quick running drills, like shuttle runs and cone drills, and then biking and running for conditioning.
"For me, I just felt like it really wore me down," Parise says. "[On the new program], believe it or not, we don't do any running. No biking. It's just a different style of training that I like a lot."
Working with trainer Erik Rasmussen, a former teammate of Parise's on the New Jersey Devils, the 29-year-old winger went through a grueling weight-training regimen last summer. The system, designed by another Minnesota-based trainer, Jay Schroeder, features a number of isometric holds along with other exercises that focus on quickness of movement. It seems like a perfect blend for a player like Parise, whose quickness and strength particularly near the front of the net make him a consistent scoring threat.
In the isometric holds, for example, Parise will lower into a deep lunge and maintain the pose for as long as five minutes. Then he switches to the other leg and holds that position for five minutes. "Holding a position and then just watching the clock, you feel like it's not moving," he says. "Mentally, it's really hard, too."
Outside of the holds, his emphasis has been on developing quickness. Bench presses took on a different style. Laying on the bench fully extended, Parise dropped the bar and then caught it on his chest before pushing it back up to the top as quickly and a strongly as he could. The most taxing exercise in the program, he says, was a series of Zercher squats. With a 135-pound barbell resting across his forearms, in the crooks of his elbows, Parise lowered himself into a deep squat, held it for 30 seconds, then rose and came back down into the squat to hold the pose for 30 more seconds. The set called for 10 reps, but Parise admits he can only get through about three in a row before needing a rest. "I hate it, but it's so good," he says. "But I hate it."
The change in his training program, Parise says, left him feeling more refreshed this season, and he leads the resurgent Wild with 20 points in 23 games. "What I noticed most in doing these types of movements rather than all that running I was doing was how much better my knees and my hips felt throughout the summer and even into the season," he says. "My joints feel a lot better than they did after all that pounding from the running."
For Parise, who missed half of the 2010-11 season with a meniscus tear in his right knee, keeping his joints strong is a key to staying healthy. A mindful and balanced diet, too, has helped him become one of the league's strongmen. Aside from the knee injury, Parise has missed just two games in eight-plus seasons. Though he is not as strict about his diet as some other NHLers -- for example, Colorado Avalanche center Matt Duchene has gone gluten-free and Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos eats strictly organic -- Parise, whose wife has a degree in nutrition and dietetics, has cut out a lot of red meat from his diet and he stays away from carbs during the off-season. After practices, he'll drink chocolate milk because it's always available in the Wild locker room. The high sugar and protein content aids in recovery for an elite athlete who burns more than 1,000 calories during the course of a game.
Altogether, it makes Parise one of the NHL's best players and a role model even amongst his peers. His enviable work ethic and strong leadership have put the Minneapolis native squarely in the conversation about players who could wear the captain's "C" for Team USA in Sochi. He is a virtual lock to make the roster, but he's trying not to think about all that yet. When the puck drops in Sochi in February, that's when Parise will focus on making all the memories, this time, great ones.