After being eliminated from the postseason, the New York Islanders walked off the ice with their heads hung low. Inside the locker room, stunned silence drowned out the noise of hushed breathing and the peeling of wrist tape.
While most of the team undressed and exited for the showers, Zach Parise remained at his locker, still in full uniform, sitting with the familiar feeling of disappointment.
“Everyone is in a little bit of shock at the end of the season,” Parise said a few days later. “Especially in that situation, losing in overtime, and it just kind of abruptly ending like that. All the work that you put in to get to that point and throughout the 82 games, and it’s just over. It never gets any easier.”
Falling short in the playoffs is nothing new to Parise, who is still in search of his first Stanley Cup. But even in the 18th year of his career, he was a consistent contributor in all phases of the game.
Parise tallied 34 points with 21 goals in 2022-23 while logging minutes on both the power play and the penalty kill. For the second straight regular season, the 38-year-old played in all 82 games. Although, Parise’s most valuable contribution to the Islanders during the year was the example he set for his teammates.
“He’s one of the best linemates I’ve had the chance to play with,” said Jean-Gabriel Pageau. “I’ve learned so much from him. We like to communicate a lot, so I get to ask a lot of questions. Sometimes, I’m sure they’re dumb questions, but he’s answering all of them. He’s been around for so long and had so much success in his career, that whatever he is answer was, I’m learning from it. I’m trying to enjoy every time we were on the ice together.”
Parise has had somewhat of a career rebirth since joining the Islanders. He signed a massive 13-year contract with the Minnesota Wild as an unrestricted free agent back in 2012 but never lived up to its value. Eventually, Parise was bought out of the deal in its ninth year after playing in just 558 games while suffering through injuries, thus making the durability he’s maintained with the Islanders all the more impressive.
“Zach is the standard. He works out more than probably anybody,” said Mathew Barzal. “He’s focused on the game at all times, and he’s just a pro. I think every guy in that room, no matter if you’re a young guy or if you’re in your thirties, everyone is taking a little piece from Zach’s work ethic.”
Now, Parise is once again about to become a free agent and faces the difficult decision of whether or not to return for a 19th NHL season.
“Since day one, we all have that dream of chasing the Cup,” Parise said. “That’s no different if you’re 18 or you’re 38 like I am. We’re always chasing that thing, so that’s always a draw. And, honestly, you just enjoy being around these people so much that it’s a huge draw. On the flip side, it’s no doubt it’s been hard being away from the family and being away from your kids for a couple of years. That’s hard. There’s a lot of different things that play into it.”
As for the decision of where he’ll want to play if he does return, Parise has already made that clear.
“I think it would be here or nowhere.”