NHL: Hockey a salve for elder Parise
ST. PAUL -- Still numb from the news that he had Stage 4 lung cancer, J.P. Parise got in his car to leave the doctor's office last February and head home with his wife.
ST. PAUL - Still numb from the news that he had Stage 4 lung cancer, J.P. Parise got in his car to leave the doctor’s office last February and head home with his wife.
Before the keys were in the ignition, Donna broke down.
For her, cancer connotes the end is near.
“Well, I’m not gone yet,” J.P. said, finding a way to mix humor into an impossibly difficult time, the way he has tried to do the past eight months.
Chemotherapy has sapped some of the 72-year-old’s energy, but he has found a way to roll with the punches, the way he did as a popular member of the Minnesota North Stars in the 1960s and ’70s.
“It’s life,” J.P. said. “You just go out and prepare for the next game.”
He doesn’t get out of the house as much, but he’s still a die-hard hockey fan and the proud father of Zach Parise, the Wild’s standout left wing.
J.P. attended the Wild’s first preseason home game Saturday and plans to be at every game this season.
He’s a hockey fan to the core.
During a 15-minute interview with a reporter to talk about the cancer diagnosis, he spent half the time talking about the Wild. He likes the offseason acquisition of Thomas Vanek and is blown away by the emergence of young players such as Erik Haula.
“My gosh, where did these kids come from?” he asked. “I can’t believe how skilled those kids are. If you can’t play, you don’t play on that team. If you can’t receive a pass, you’re not playing on that team.”
After his diagnosis, J.P. asked his doctor, “Am I dead tomorrow?”
Much of the outcome will depend on the chemotherapy, which has been effective so far. But after the diagnosis, which came while Zach was captaining the Americans in the Winter Olympics, J.P. wanted more specifics. Will he be able to watch the 2018 Olympics?
“(The doctor) said that doesn’t seem to be unreasonable,” J.P. said. “So all the sudden I’m looking at four years, and it’s not tomorrow.
“It was devastating, of course,” he said. “It’s the effect that you think you’re dead tomorrow, but it isn’t like that at all. It isn’t. (Chemo) certainly doesn’t make me overly bubbly, but it doesn’t weaken me to the point where I can’t move and I can’t function.”
He’ll still attend Zach’s home games and watch the road games on TV.
When Zach played for the New Jersey Devils, his parents made the trip east a couple of times a season. But when Zach became a free agent two summers ago and had his choice of teams, he signed with Minnesota in part because it meant being closer to J.P. and Donna.
Now J.P. is able to see his two grandchildren - Zach’s twins - often and can watch Zach at the Xcel Energy Center.
“It sounds corny, but you always want to play well in front of your parents,” Zach said. “Just with the situation the way it is now, you just appreciate that he can come to every game right now.
“With what happened to him, it worked out really good to be here and for him to be able to come to all the games. I guess we got kind of lucky with that to be here and for him to be so close.”
At times, it was a difficult summer for the family.
During the heart of chemo treatments, J.P. said he sometimes needed a four-hour nap after walking across the street.
The return of hockey has been welcome. J.P. is in what he described as the “third phase of my maintenance program” and is rejuvenated by watching and talking hockey.
“I think it’ll be good once the season starts to get him out of the house,” Zach said. “I think that energizes him a little bit. He hasn’t had a lot of energy, but it’s motivation to get out of the house and come to the games. I know how much he likes doing that, so that’ll be good for him.”
J.P. smoked cigarettes until 1973. He hasn’t had one since, which made the diagnosis even tougher to accept.
“But I don’t think about what could’ve been - it’s done,” he said. “I just want to enjoy what’s ahead, and certainly there’s so much to look forward to with spending time with the grandkids.”
And, of course, another hockey season.
“That’s been my whole life,” J.P. said. “I just can’t wait for the season to start.”
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with the Forum News Service