Apparently, a broken sternum isn’t as painful as it sounds, which is funny because the thought of fracturing the bone that runs down the middle of your chest sounds like a unique kind of hell. But Zach Parise of the Minnesota Wild is here to tell you that if you’re going to get injured, you could do a lot worse than a broken sternum.
“Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Parise said. “It hurt a lot when I sneezed, but when it happened I was actually shocked it was broken. Compared to a herniated disc in my back, this was nothing.”
Parise has a unique perspective on both those afflictions because they were responsible for waylaying his regular season and playoffs in 2017-18. He missed the first 40 games of last season after undergoing badly needed back surgery and had his playoffs cut short when he broke his sternum in Game 3 of the Wild’s first-round playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets. As is almost always the case, when he wasn’t hurt, he was very, very good. And with a clean bill of health this season, Parise is back to being the elite scorer he has been through most of his career. The game-winner in the Wild’s 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday afternoon was his 18th of the season, which puts him on pace for 38 goals this season. He also added his 17th assist in the game, which puts him on pace for 75 points. If he continues at his goal and point pace for the rest of the season, it would tie the mark for the second-highest number of goals and be the third-highest number of points in his career. He has missed just one game this season, due to illness in November.
But staying healthy has always been an issue for Parise, a player who plays with something of a take-no-prisoners approach on the forecheck. Getting crosschecked in the back and taking a roughing up in front of the net are regular occurrences and those whacks and hacks are a lot more difficult to absorb when you’re 34 years old. Parise has not been able to play a full season since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign and after being relatively healthy the first five seasons of his career, Parise has missed 201 of the 703 games since then.
The biggest blow was last summer when he finally had to undergo back surgery, billed as a microdiscectomy, a procedure designed to not only repair a badly herniated disc, but also alleviate pain and weakness in other nearby parts of his body.
‘I’ve had some pretty unfortunate luck,” Parise said. “The back thing really affected me a lot, so I was playing catch-up for a long time. The most important thing was getting my body working again and that was the biggest thing and that was what was frustrating me. Plays and things where I felt like I should have been able to get to the puck, I couldn’t. So it sucked. I started to question myself. ‘Can I still do this and am I ever going to feel normal again?’ And fortunately I feel good now.”
So Parise has had to look for ways to stay involved in the thick of the play and try to avoid contact where he can. And he has done that by, of all things, changing the lie on his stick and reducing the curve. His lie was a much lower 5½, but he gradually went up to 7½ on the urging of former NHLer and skills coach Adam Oates. The results have been dramatic.
“When I had the lower lie, I could shoot a lot better, but I felt like it was forcing me to put my head down a lot more,” Parise said. “It’s pretty fast out there. The higher lie has made me stand up taller and help me keep my head up a little more.”
Unfortunately for the Wild, having a healthy and contributing Parise back in the lineup has not translated into better fortunes for them. They have 41 points in 39 games, which puts them four points out of a playoff spot – albeit with games in hand – and some work to do to get themselves in the post-season mix. At the same point last year without Parise in the lineup, they had 43 points. It should be noted, though, that the Wild went on a tear once Parise got into the lineup last season, going 24-10-8 the rest of the season to finish with 101 points. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau knows there’s no correlation between the Wild’s struggles and Parise being in the lineup, which is why he has a logical approach for getting them out of it.
“You put him out a lot, he plays a lot and you hope you win,” Boudreau said.