Zach Parise was enjoying an off-day lunch in southern California on Sunday when the Wild center learned he was the next Captain America, a first for the two-time Olympian who will lead the U.S. men's hockey team into the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
Parise had five days to process and suppress the news before USA Hockey publicly anointed him Friday during a conference call with general manager David Poile and head coach Dan Bylsma, who telephoned Parise earlier this week before the Wild played at Anaheim.
“Pretty thrilled,” Parise said from Calgary, where Minnesota plays the Flames on Saturday night. “I am lucky enough to join a pretty elite list of captains for the United States. I don't think our team's going to be lacking in leadership at all. There are plenty of guys that are capable of doing that.”
Wild defenseman Ryan Suter and Los Angeles Kings forward Dustin Brown were named alternate captains.
Parise, whose four goals and eight points tied for team lead during Team USA's silver-medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, captained the New Jersey Devils before signing with Minnesota as a free agent in 2012.
“We think we're going to be a hard team to play against, with a blue-collar mentality that Zach embodies,” U.S. coach Dan Bylsma said. “He is that as player and as a person. That's why (we chose) Zach Parise.”
Parise is third on the Wild in scoring with 18 goals and 16 assists despite missing a month with a leg fracture. Since returning to the lineup last week, he has three goals, seven points and 16 shots in four games.
He and Suter serve as alternates in Minnesota behind Mikko Koivu, who is expected to be named Finland's Olympic captain.
Parise named former Devils teammate and 2010 Olympic captain Jamie Langenbrunner as the type of leader he embodies.
Langenbrunner, an 18-year NHL veteran won Stanley Cups with the Dallas Stars and New Jersey. He and Parise were teammates for six seasons with the Devils, advancing to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012 before losing to Brown's Kings.
“When I came into New Jersey, I remember how great Jamie was, and being a younger guy, that's one of the things you don't forget,” said Parise, 29. “I sat next to him (in the locker room) while he was captain. Jamie's the type of guy, he's not overly vocal, but you know he's going to play hard and the right way every game.
“As I've been getting older in the league, I remember the way that type of player carried himself.”
Bylsma, who coaches the Pittsburgh Penguins, faced the Parise-led Devils plenty as Eastern Conference rivals.
“Every time we played against Zach Parise, there was been a work ethic that never quits, a determination, abrasiveness about being hard to play against. It's every time, regardless of the score or situation,” Bylsma said. “That is exactly how we want Team USA to play.”
Team USA is scheduled to arrive in Sochi on Feb. 10, with two days of practice scheduled before opening the preliminary round with a Feb. 13 game against Slovakia.
The U.S. is scheduled to play Russia on Feb. 15 and Slovenia on Feb. 16 before teams are reseeded for the single-game elimination tournament.
Brian Murphy covers the Minnesota Wild and the NHL for Digital First Media at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Follow him on Twitter @murphPPress.