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Tampa Bay Lightning wing Mark Parrish resurrects his career at big cost

TAMPA

Mark Parrish always will regret not being home when his son, Turner, was born. Instead, he was hundreds of miles away, in Binghamton, N.Y., playing minor-league hockey. Parrish flew home to Minneapolis the next day. But though the hospital reunion with wife Nicholle and their 2-year-old daughter, Gianna, was satisfying, and his introduction to Turner emotional, it was a reminder of how much the resurrection of his career has cost. "That," he said of missing Turner's birth, "was the low point." That is why Saturday was so special. The family Parrish said he had seen only 21 days since Jan. 1, the day after Turner arrived, flew to Tampa to begin an extended visit. It was the first time they were together since Parish made it back to the NHL on Feb. 14.

"To know that they're going to be in the same spot as me, and are going to be able to watch me play hockey, and to get a chance to go home with them and hug them, that is a great feeling," the Lightning wing said.

Regrets aside, Parrish, 33, should feel good about what he has accomplished.

Out of hockey when the season started, the former All-Star and 2006 U.S. Olympian played 51 games with AHL Norfolk under two tryout contracts, and had 15 goals, 35 points, to push his way back into the show.

Though Tampa Bay's lack of organizational depth helped his rise, that Parrish was willing to start rebuilding his career with a minor-league tryout contract says much about his character, teammate Todd Fedoruk said.

"A lot of guys wouldn't do that just because of pride."

"I love hockey," Parrish said. "I wanted to keep playing."

A 30-goal scorer and a 2002 All-Star with the Islanders, Parrish signed a five-year, $13.25 million contract in 2006 with the Wild. But after scoring 35 goals in two seasons — "sometimes players and coaches don't see eye-to-eye on their roles," he said — Parrish was bought out.

And after scoring eight goals in 44 games last season with the Stars, he seemed out of options — until he called Lightning general manager Brian Lawton and continued discussions he said Lawton initiated in the summer.

Parrish signed his first tryout contract in October, but he fretted about leaving Nicholle and Gianna in Minnesota.

"That was tough, with my wife pregnant and with a 2-year-old who is a handful," Parrish said. "There were a lot of worries. But every time I thought I was being selfish putting her in a tough situation, she pushed me along."

"We had quite a few conversations of him feeling awful and leaving me behind with all this stuff to do at home," Nicholle said. "But never once did I feel angry towards him that he was out there trying to play hockey. I knew he wasn't done and this is still a huge passion in his life."

The family used Skype, a free Internet communications service, to stay in touch, and Nicholle joked that Parrish was her "virtual husband."

Parrish said he would have given anything to be there for Turner's birth: "But when I got the phone call, I was just coming off the ice after the game (in Binghamton). It happened quick. It was within a half-hour. I was barely back to the hotel, let alone being able to book a flight."

Parrish got to Minnesota as often as he could, such as during the AHL All-Star break. And the family visited Norfolk during an extended homestand.

But even then, Parrish's focus was hockey and adapting to a younger, quicker game.

Parrish admitted he had not revamped his conditioning program over the years, "and it wasn't enough."

He also knows that in seven games with the Lightning, with one assist and an average 15:25 of ice time, he still has much to prove.

At least now he has his virtual family for support.

Damian Cristodero can be reached at cristodero@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Lightning wing Mark Parrish resurrects his career at big cost 03/13/10 [Last modified: Saturday, March 13, 2010 10:06pm]
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