Parise, Brown ready to make U.S. hockey proud
By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer
NEWARK, N.J. -- The 1999 Stanley Cup Final sticks in Devils captain Zach Parise's head because it was Mike Modano, his boyhood idol, winning his first and only Stanley Cup. That championship round between Dallas and Buffalo, played when Parise was 14 years old, sticks in his mind because of the controversy surrounding Brett Hull's Cup-clinching triple-OT goal in Game 6.
Nowhere in Parise's memory bank can he recall the history that Dallas' win made for hockey in the United States -- history that will be repeated in this year's Stanley Cup Final.
Derian Hatcher was the Stars captain, and the first U.S.-born captain to win the Stanley Cup. It will happen again this year with Parise (Minneapolis) and Kings captain Dustin Brown (Ithaca, N.Y.) taking their teams into the Final, which starts Wednesday night at Prudential Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS).
"No, unfortunately no," Parise told NHL.com when he was asked if he knew at the time that Hatcher made history. "When I was watching the Cup Final then, those things didn't matter. I guess at the time, I just didn't comprehend or understand that he was the first American captain. I just didn't know."
He knows now, and he will do whatever he can to join Hatcher in the USA Hockey history books. Brown will, too.
It may be a small underlying story heading into this Stanley Cup Final, but at the end, one of these two Americans will receive the trophy from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. They know what that means for hockey in the United States. They realize how big of a story it will become.
Regardless of who gets the trophy, USA Hockey will win.
"This is probably, other than the Olympics, the biggest stage for USA Hockey and it's something to take pride in," Brown said. "I think American hockey is going in the right direction in terms of having the players in the spotlight. This is a good thing for USA Hockey."
At the time it happened 13 years ago, Brown was actually aware of the history Hatcher made. He just didn't make it out to be a big deal then.
"I knew it just because I knew he was American," Brown said.
It's not all that surprising that Parise didn't know and Brown didn't know it was a big deal. Even Hatcher didn't realize he was going to be the first.
"I didn't [know it] until sometime into the series against Buffalo, when someone asked me," Hatcher told NHL.com's Adam Kimelman. "Not only was it the first, it was the first non-Canadian. That was before [Detroit's Nicklas] Lidstrom won it. I didn't even know it."
As Kings general manager and Massachusetts native Dean Lombardi pointed out, the fact that it's happening again is not really a surprise considering how high hockey's profile in the United States has risen since Hatcher won the Cup.
The Americans have since won two Olympic silver medals and two World Juniors gold medals. Parise was on the 2004 team that won gold in Finland. He scored the dramatic goal in 2010 that got the U.S. into overtime against Canada in the gold-medal game. Of course, that match ended on a goal by Canada's Sidney Crosby at 7:40 of overtime.
"It started with the World Cup [in 1996], and that might have been the best American team ever if you look at it. That was a really good team," Lombardi told NHL.com. "The one thing I don't think we'll ever catch Canada in is depth, but I think it's been clear since '96 that we can match up and still not have the Mario Lemieux."
Nobody is talking about Parise or Brown in the same breath as Lemieux, but without question they are two of the faces of American hockey now, two of the ambassadors of the sport in their country.
It's a role both covet and appreciate. They also each know that winning the Cup this year will add to their profile and their status among young American players searching for idols.
"It comes with the territory. The more team success you have the more individuals are going to be recognized," Parise said. "It means a lot because I remember looking at the Brotens and Modanos. Now hopefully we're having that type of impact on young kids that they did on us.
"I guess it adds more to the storyline [of the Cup Final], but I don't want it to be him -- and I'm sure Dustin is thinking the same thing."
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl