That was the word Mark Parrish used when he first became aware that he was turning in his Florida Panther threads for the blue and orange of the New York Islanders.
Parrish, now 41 years old and living in his native Minnesota, spent two seasons in Sunrise before being traded to the New York Islanders before the start of the 2000-2001 season. He and Oleg Kvasha were dealt to the Isles as apart of a two-for-two deal in exchange for future Hall of Fame goalie Roberto Luongo and forward Olli Jokinen.
“It’s kind of funny,” Parrish said during a 25-minute phone call, “Looking back on how quickly in the NHL and decisions of how things can change, decisions that can be made to change guys lives and careers.”
What’s interesting was — and the same thing happened to his future teammate Adrian Aucoin — Parrish was informed just a short time before he was traded by Panthers g.m. Chuck Fletcher that he and Pavel Bure were going to be the two scorers the team was going to build around for the next decade. Surprised to say the least, the first thing that came to Parrish’s mind: He didn’t know anything about Long Island other than the Coliseum, the Marriott, and the legacy of the franchise.
“I just remember needing directions to everywhere I needed to go,” Parrish laughed.
Parrish’s first year with the Islanders came at the start of the new millennium, and at that time, things were very dreary around the franchise. They had been in the basement for several years and were still trying to rid the stench of the whole John Spano fiasco. That season, the Isles finished last in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. Parrish was serviceable that year despite his team’s terrible record — 30 points in 70 games — and found the lighter side with the kind of group the team iced.
“We were just a lot of young guys,” he recalled. The Islanders had 16 players on their roster that season all under the age of 27. “I think there was a lot of us who were really just trying to come in to our own. We were just trying to find our game, but we had a lot of fun. A lot of my good friends, I still talk to and see. I still speak with Scatch (Dave Scatchard), Ricky (Rick DiPietro, (Brad) Isbister, all those guys. It was a great group. Thing was, nobody was really ready to take that bull by the horns.”
Parrish acknowledged that the team’s mentality from that losing season, and the huge offseason that followed — trading for Michael Peca, Alexei Yashin, Aucoin, and picking up Chris Osgood of the waiver wire — made things click at the start of the 2001-02 campaign. He flashed back to being up at his cabin in Minnesota that summer and sensing the enthusiasm. Parrish was ready and willing to give up his number 27 for Peca when the rumors floated around that he would be joining the team. The rest of the summer was electric,” Parrish said. “I’m not downplaying wanting to get back to training camp. You always want to get back, but there was more to it that year. I was chomping at the bit.”
That buzz and excitement translated on to the ice for Parrish, his teammates, and rookie general Peter Laviolette. With personalities that blended immediately, the Islanders got off to a flying start and never looked back.
Put on a line with Peca and Shawn Bates, Parrish thrived. That trio instantly found chemistry and their play echoed throughout the lineup.
“I felt like we could play against anybody,” Parrish said of his line.” How good they were, it allowed me to cheat a little bit. I loved it.”
The 01-02 campaign ended up being the best season of Parrish’s 15 year career. He would score 30 goals and add 30 assists in 78 games played. He was the second leading scorer on the team behind Yashin (32 goals), and his performance would earn him his only ever All-Star appearance. Following the All-Star Game, Parrish continued his strong play. The 24-year old helped the Isles clinch their first playoff berth in eight seasons and re-establish the franchise as a threat.
“Going through the year before was rough for everybody emotionally. We knew that we saw the standings and where we sat in the league. It definitely left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. But after that summer, it turned around so dramatically.
“I think we were all just riding a wave. Laviolette, everybody. There was just an emotional high. We were passionate when it came to the games. We were passionate in practice. I just remember how fun it was. Good, bad, or indifferent. Guys would get in to it on the ice, but afterwards we’d go have lunch together. It’s just the way we were.”
Parrish and the Isles drew Toronto in the first round. Looking back on that memorable series, he continues to realize how much the legend of that series continues to grow with each passing year. So much so, that it was the first thing asked to him when he guest spotted on NHL Network and when talking to folks in Toronto.
The Islanders would lose to Toronto in seven, but those days and nights still are fresh in Parrish’s mind.
“Never have I ever seen a full team, before games and after games, everybody in their suits getting I.V.s. I remember just being physically exhausted. After we lost, I remember them going two more series and it blew my mind how they still had the energy to play after what we all went through. We were absolutely dead. Heartbroken. Losing Peca was a gut-wrencher for us. We weren’t able to recover from that.” The year after that playoff series, Parrish joked at the fact that the NHL replayed that video of that series to establish the new rules of how penalties were going to be called.
Following the playoff disappointment, Parrish and the Isles were trending upward.
He would score 23 goals in 2002-03 and 24 goals in 2003-04, becoming one of the organization’s most productive forwards. But even with regular season success, the Islanders failed to get over the hump in the postseason, bowing out to Ottawa in five in 03 and to Tampa Bay in five in 04. Those two years though, something felt different for Parrish and his mates. The buzz created by the team began to simmer down and some frustration set in.
“Looking back on it, it just didn’t have that same energy,” Parrish alluded to with the team not taking that next step those seasons. “We didn’t have bad years by any means. But it didn’t seem to flow as easy.”
Parrish’s five seasons with the Islanders went by in a flash, but who he got to play with puts a smile on his face.
“Rattling off three names before, Peca, Bates, and Aucoin. But the core we had with Snowy (Garth Snow), Isie, Jason Weimer, it was truly a wonderful group of guys. We were all really tight. Even throw Brad Lukowich in there.”
Following his final year on the Island, 2004-05, Parrish was shipped to the Los Angeles Kings with d-man Brent Sopel for youngster Jeff Tambellini and d-man Denis Grebeshkov. When the trade occurred, Parrish felt like his heart was yanked out of his chest. The relationships he formed with the Isles made it a very tough transition. To put it nicely, Parrish missed Long Island straightaway. Especially, the people and the food.
“The difference between New York and Los Angeles was hysterical to me,” Parrish noted. “I definitely missed the people from New York because they are real. And you’ve got to earn their respect, which I love. And god damn it, did I miss the food. Every single day, I missed the food back there.”
In the years that Parrish donned the Isles sweater, he became a fan favorite. Being on Twitter and Facebook, he still roots for the Isles and interacts with fans when he’s gets the chance. He still loves how the fans treated him with open arms.
“The passion. They will hold you accountable. I recall a lot of times they’d come up to us, and they wouldn’t even be mean about it. Yes they would talk to you about the team, but you weren’t used to them being so honest. I grew to absolutely love and appreciate that blunt honesty and their respect.”
Being in the organization for as long as he did, Parrish can still recount all the stories. One of his biggest favorites involved Fin Janne Niinimaa.
“When Janne came in, he never carried a credit card with him, sometimes basically no cash either,” Parrish chuckled. “Even for team meals, he would always say he would pay it back the next day. And he was good about it. But some of us got to thinking, ‘You know what? Let’s play the credit card game’.
“Everybody throws their card in to a hat. However many, whether you got the whole team or four of five guys. Have the waiter/waitress pull out the last credit card in the hat. Whoever loses has to pay for the meal. So, every time Janne would be like ‘Oh god, credit card game again’. I’m not going to say which two guys on the team taught it up, because it’s kind of genius. But, one of them was said to Janne that they had his credit card and they would throw his and their credit card also in the hat for him. And it was actually the room key.
“We must have done it to him seven or eight times in a row until he finally figured out that we were messing with him. He was a good sport about it.”
That was the kind of team Parrish and his teammates were — getting away with those shenanigans and the overall comradery among them.
Parrish continues to have ties with the organization despite being a far away in Minnesota.
He did some guest commentary for MSG Networks a few games last year, even though the people who wanted him thought he resided in the New York Area, not Minnesota. He also has chimed in on NHL Network, which he just signed a contract with for this year, about guys like Brock Nelson and Anders Lee. Other than the couple of MSG telecasts he did, Parrish is a well known commodity in his home state.
He helps coach high school hockey — his team won the state tournament last year — as an assistant. He’s gotten a fair amount of exposure as the color commentator for his alma-mata St. Cloud State, doing radio shows on KFAN a couple times a week.
As for family life, it’s all about being at the rink way more than he was as a player coaching his two kids — Turner and Gianna.
Parrish continues to be proud of his time on Long Island and the respect he earned from the fans during his tenure.
“Once you have their respect, you have it for life. That’s something I’ve never forgotten.”
Follow me on Twitter @RTaub_