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There will be many others eulogizing J.P. Parise, who died January 7th of lung cancer, and rightfully so. He was a heck of a hockey player, helped develop hockey players at his post-hockey life as a coach in the NHL and the minors, and then as hockey director at Shattuck-Saint Mary's, and, well, he sired a heck of a hockey player in Zach Parise.
I watched him play a bit in the 1970s, in my formative years as a fan, and have a bunch of his hockey cards. He's associated mostly with the Boston Bruins, in whose system he came up, and the Minnesota North Stars, where he played a ton, coached and settled down. But he played with the New York Islanders and the Cleveland Barons too.
While working on Written in Blue & White: The Toronto Maple Leafs Contracts and Historical Documents from the Collection of Allan Stitt, I got the chance to give him a call and talk with him about something very few people do -- his one single game with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Long story short, J.P. was at the training camp of the Oakland Seals for their initial NHL campaign in the fall of 1967; he'd been claimed by the expansion team from the Bruins' organization. The camp was in London, Ontario.
By his own recollection, Parise played a bunch of exhibition games and was second on the team in scoring, after defenceman Kent Douglas. He expected to make the NHL for good after 21 games over two seasons with the Bruins, most of his ice time coming in the Central league with the Oklahoma City Blazers.
But he didn't count on his battles with Seals coach Bert Olmstead.
Here is Parise's take:
He was big on basic fundamentals of the game, back in those days -- stay on your wing, no rink-wide passes, and all those things. So we're in the third period, I'm on the ice, and we're leading 3-2. I've got the puck on our blueline, along the wall, and I see my right winger just exploding on the right side. So I make a rink-wide pass and sure enough it was intercepted in the middle of the ice. They guy kept coming towards me, and I nailed him and I got a penalty. I'm in the box and they score. Instead of being 4-2, it's 3-3. And Mr. Olmstead was not very pleased, he was very angry. I go back to the bench and he's pacing, "Little frickin' frog...
I said, "Fuck you. I screwed up. I'm sorry about that, but that gives you no fuckin' right to start attacking my heritage." And he never responded. The next day at 8 o'clock, I got a knock on my door -- we're staying in London at the hotel, the Holiday Inn I think -- these are things I don't forget! Details that I don't forget! Lessons in life! He was informing me I had been traded to Rochester of the American League. So, for about four, five seconds of getting things off my chest and unloading, I just screwed up my life, my career, and my NHL salary and the whole thing.
Of course J.P. hadn't screwed up his NHL career, just delayed it.
In Rochester, coach Joe Crozier was a believer.
I go to Rochester, and now I'm totally depressed. My career is over, I'm 25 years old, and it's over. He called me into his office one day. He used to call me Johnny. He says, "Johnny, if you can only get out of this frickin' funk, you're in." I had a shitty attitude. He says, "If you get out of the frickin' funk that you're in, I'll have you back in the National Hockey League by Christmas." He put me on a line with old Bronco Horvath. Bronco and I clicked, and sure enough, just after Christmas I got a call from Joe. He says, "You know what I promised you last September has happened." I said, "What?" He said, "I've traded you to Minnesota North Stars. You're to meet the team in New York today." So I went to New York and played my first game with the North Stars and I remained in the National Hockey League for 12 years. And if someone called me a "little frickin' frog" I would say "Thank you very much." ... I got that message.
In between there, though, was a single game in Toronto for the Leafs -- who were associated with the Rochester Americans at the time and were shorthanded -- on November 15, 1967.
It was so wonderful. George Armstrong was the captain at the time. I went into the Toronto Maple Leafs locker room. Those guys made me feel like I belonged and had been there for 10 years. It was unbelievable.
I felt so comfortable, and they made me feel welcomed. I think I played with Dave Keon and Jim Pappin. These pretty good wingers for a young rookie.
After interviewing him in December 2013, I sent him copies of his file that Allan Stitt had gotten at some point; most of it was from the Minnesota North Stars files. It was quite the package, and I hope it brought back a few memories for him.
Thank you for sharing a few of your lesser-known tales, J.P. Rest in peace.
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