BOISE, ID – Justin Parizek didn’t take the straightforward route to a professional hockey career.
The 25-year-old forward did attend college for four years at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, but confesses that he had to hone his skills in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL) and North American Hockey League (NAHL) for two years before making the transition to collegiate hockey.
Now, as a standout rookie for the Idaho Steelheads, Parizek had the honor of representing the Mountain Division in the first ever 3-on-3 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic earlier this month.
I had the chance to sit down with Justin just before the Steelheads began a three-game homestand against the Kalamazoo Wings. We touched on what he enjoyed doing as a kid growing up in Minnesota, his family, collegiate career, the team dynamic of the Steelheads, and how his faith is at the center of his life.
The Sin Bin: I noticed that you grew up in Lakeville, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Aside from hockey, is there anything else that you liked to do — sports or otherwise — when you were growing up?
Justin Parizek: I live on a lake in Minnesota, so I love to wakeboard and ski. I also do a lot of fishing, usually for large-mouth bass. A lot of my summer is often training for the season, but it also includes spending time with my friends and family in my boat, with my girlfriend, and doing all sorts of stuff out on the lake.
TSB: In regards to your hockey endeavors growing up, what was your parents’ approach? Were they aggressive, more relaxed, or somewhere in between?
JP: My parents pretty much let me do whatever I wanted to do. My favorite sport growing up was hockey, so that’s the sport I pursued. They didn’t push me to go to specific camps or play for certain teams; it was kind of always my decision. They always had their input, but by the end of the day, they wanted me to put my best foot forward and go from there. It’s been my journey, but I’ve had their support.
TSB: I noticed that you played your collegiate career at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and that you were team captain your senior year. Omaha is becoming more and more of a hockey school as time goes on, but why did you initially pick them five years ago over any other school that you could have played hockey for?
JP: I picked Omaha because it felt like the right fit. It’s actually kind of have a crazy story…I wasn’t the greatest player for a couple years. Growing up, I always made the A-Team: Squirt A’s, Pee Wee A’s, first year of Bantam…and then my second year of Bantams, I actually made the B-Team.
Going into high school, I made the JV team my first two years, and then my junior & senior years, I made varsity. (Steelheads defensemen) Joe Faust played Division I for Wisconsin; I’m pretty sure he played all four years varsity and was a top scoring defenseman in our state each of those years. When you go to Division I out of high school, that’s kind of how it happens.
I was an underdog coming out of high school. I actually went and played Midget Major for Russell Stover in Kansas City. After that, I played in the BCHL for a year, and then I went for a year and a half to Aberdeen (NAHL). It wasn’t until I was 21 that I actually had opportunities to play Division I. I didn’t even have my first offer until I was done playing my junior career; I think I ended up with 15 offers. It was definitely just hard work and persistence. The last year of my junior career, it took a lot to get into shape, get stronger, and get better at my game…a lot of people say I was a late bloomer.
The big three that I was thinking about going to for college hockey were Colorado College, Nebraska-Omaha, and Mankato (Minnesota State). It just felt like, because of the coaches and when I went on my visit, the best fit would be Omaha. It was still pretty close to home, it’s only a five-hour drive (from Minnesota,) so my parents could come and visit, and it felt like it was the right time to continue my career.
TSB: What did you major in when you went to Omaha?
JP: Business Marketing.
TSB: Is there anything specific you want to do with that degree a few years down the line?
JP: I actually was going to do X-Ray Science, but it was really hard to do that while being a hockey player, just because of the hours of the classes I’d have to take were really early or really late at night. Business Marketing just fit my schedule better with hockey, and you can do a wide variety of things with a business degree. I know someday I’m going to turn the page from hockey. I can’t play forever, so I’ll definitely look into the business world. I would like to own my own business, but that probably won’t happen for a long time.
TSB: You outlined the benefits of starting college late. Were there any drawbacks of going to Omaha as a 21-year-old and, as you put it, a late bloomer?
JP: I would have to say yes. Some of the guys in my class – Austin Ortega, Jono Davis, Jake Guentzel – they were just big name guys. A couple of them were drafted. I played in the North American League while those guys played in the USHL; I was definitely behind the 8-ball. I had to prove myself my freshman year…I mostly played fourth line, but I did play a little bit on the second line…I think I played in 80 percent of my games and had less than ten points that season. That year was definitely harder because I came in with such a highly talented class. After I proved myself that I could play at that level, I got my opportunity sophomore year and ran with it. But yes, it was difficult coming into Omaha as a 21-year-old freshman.
TSB: With the growth you experienced in Omaha and now as a professional – both in the ECHL and your short stint in the AHL – how would you classify yourself as a player?
JP: I would classify myself as a shooter; I would say my best attribute is my shot. I’ve had a lot of success here in Boise with that. When you go up to the AHL, though, it’s harder to play like you do in the ECHL. With the Steelheads, I play more penalty kill, power play, and 5-on-5. When you get called up to the AHL, you play the fourth line and are there to be physical and a momentum changer in the game. So, you try to go out there and make hits & simple plays. Obviously, if you get a scoring chance, they’d love it if you score a goal, but that’s not why you’re there on the fourth line.
TSB: Is there a player in the locker room, both as a leader and on the ice, who brings out the best in the rest of the guys around him?
JP: I would say we have a lot of leaders. Coach (Neil) Graham tends to recruit a lot of captains or assistant captains from college or major juniors. I’d have to do my research, but probably over half the team has worn a letter at some point in their career…maybe more than that, even three-fourths. Obviously, everyone’s a little bit different, but I would say everyone is a leader in the locker room.
Playing-wise, I’d say the same thing. Our team is very, very deep. Everybody brings out a different game: guys are there to fight, be physical, score goals, kill penalties…everyone has their role. I wouldn’t say anyone brings the best out more than the other; I would just say everyone plays different roles.
TSB: How would you compare living in Boise, Idaho to your home state of Minnesota?
JP: There’s a lot more lakes in Minnesota, that’s a big difference! On the flip side, we don’t have mountains, so it’s unbelievable to be out here. It’s beautiful here. I live about 25 minutes from Minneapolis, and it is obviously a lot bigger than Boise. If I were to compare the two, I’d say Boise is a lot like Omaha: they both have that smaller town feel, but at the same time, there’s a lot to do. I love how you can do a lot of stuff outdoors, but you can also be in the city and go out to eat with your family. There’s just so much to do. Anyone that’s lived here has probably said the same thing. It’s an unbelievable city that a lot of America probably doesn’t know about.
TSB: You’re involved in FCA Hockey (Fellowship of Christian Athletes). Your faith is not something you shy away from; you’re pretty open about it on social media. Being so active in your spiritual life, how does that affect who and what you are as a player?
JP: My faith is very important to me. Being a professional athlete, there’s a lot of ups and downs. One weekend might be the greatest weekend of your life, and the next might be worst. I have that rock in my life and that faith that I can rely on in the harshest of times. I give all the glory to God when I score a goal, or when we win a game. I know there’s obviously a bigger picture, and my career is just a small piece of my lifetime. Hockey is a tool for me to reach others and hopefully to grow His kingdom. I’m definitely not shy about being a Christian; I’m very passionate about that.
TSB: With that in mind, I was kind of surprised to hear that you got a 10-minute misconduct penalty on January 6 against the Allen Americans.
JP: Yeah, I got kicked out of the game more because it was a 5-0 game and (Allen’s Bryan Moore) wasn’t happy about me finishing my check, so he started coming after me. The refs told me they were trying to protect me because…well, let’s say I did keep playing. Another teammate gets upset, and it just keeps going. So, with eight minutes left in the game, they were just trying to settle the game down. Getting me out of the game would probably help, especially if I’m pissing off the other team.
TSB: A few quick-fire questions here…what’s your favorite NHL team?
JP: Probably the Wild, since I grew up in Minnesota. I’ve gone to a handful of games, and when they go to the playoffs, I watch every game.
TSB: Who’s your favorite player?
JP: That’s a tough one…my favorite player to watch right now is (Connor) McDavid. He’s just on another level right now. John Tavares is really good, too. If I were to pay money to watch a guy, it’d probably be McDavid, just because he brings an explosiveness that I feel like no one else in the NHL has right now.
TSB: Do you have a favorite player from the Wild that you admired growing up?
JP: I like (Zach) Parise a lot just because of his work ethic. I skate a lot with him in the summer and I’ve worked out with him…he hustles harder than anyone I’ve ever been around. I appreciate and respect all that he does in the gym and on the ice.
TSB: What’s the most memorable goal you’ve scored so far in your career?
JP: I’m going to say the one that comes right off the top of my head…I scored a goal my sophomore year to help put Omaha into the Frozen Four. I think we won 4-1 and I had the third goal that game, but just to score in such a crazy atmosphere and go to the Frozen Four in Boston…I think that’s the most significant goal I’ve scored.
TSB: Where do you see yourself in three to five years?
JP: I honestly couldn’t tell you. After my senior year, I knew I still wanted to play hockey. After not signing an NHL contract, which I thought I would, I was kind of down about hockey. I didn’t even know if I was going to play this year. Coming to the ECHL has been the greatest thing that could have happened to me: great city, great coaches, and great players. I love everything about it. I’m just taking it one year at a time. This year has been unbelievable; hopefully, we win a championship. But, I can’t answer that question until after the season and I’ll reevaluate my life from there.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Parizek had a goal in the semifinal and two assists in the final as the Mountain Division defeated both the Central (5-2) and South (6-5, SO) to win the 2018 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic on January 15. He also participated in the Fastest Skater Competition, where his time of 13.17 seconds was good for fourth place.
As of this article’s publication, Justin has 18 goals and 15 assists through 37 games for the Idaho Steelheads. Idaho’s next game will be against the Utah Grizzlies on Wednesday night.