Matt Greene: Friend, foe and one-time body guard to Zach Parise

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Matt Greene: Friend, foe and one-time body guard to Zach Parise

In the world of professional hockey, it's not difficult to imagine how intense rivalries and physical battles on the ice might lead to animosity off the ice.

Before the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup finals started in late May, Los Angeles Kings assistant captain Matt Greene said he wouldn't talk to Zach Parise, the New Jersey Devils captain, until the series between their two teams ended, even though they'd been friends, roommates and teammates at the University of North Dakota.

On June 11, Greene and the Kings achieved every hockey player's dream, skating the Cup before a national TV audience and thousands of their adoring fans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Greene, the hard-hitting, stay-at-home defenseman, helped the Kings limit the skilled, high-scoring Parise to a single goal during the series LA won in six games.

So now that it's over, has Greene spoken to Parise?

"I talked to him and his fiancé, and I'm going to their wedding next weekend," said Greene, who was back in North Dakota to attend the Frank White-Roger Snortland Scholarship Golf Tournament with his father Jim near Walhalla last Saturday.

"It's a business," Greene said of his relationship with Parise. "With friendship, you learn at a young age that you can treat hockey and friendship as two completely different things. During the 60 minutes of a game, it doesn't have to be nice and cordial. You have to set that aside and be friends afterwards."

Parise, who recently made national news by signing a 13-year, $98 million contract with the NHL's Minnesota Wild, will marry Alisha Woods in the Twin Cities July 21. A Hoople, N.D., native, she met Parise while they attended UND. Woods graduated from the University in 2007 with a bachelor's of science degree in community nutrition.

When Greene and Parise shared a room in Walsh Hall at UND in 2002 during their freshman season, Greene made it his mission to protect the highly recruited son of former NHL star J.P. Parise.

"Zach came in with a lot of notoriety and a lot of hype around him, and he delivered right away," Greene recalled. "He was one of our best players as a freshman. Teams thought that if they took cheap shots on him, they could slow him down a little bit and maybe it would hurt our team.

"Nobody told me to take care of Zach," he continued. "He could take care of himself. He was an extremely competitive, tough kid. Sometimes being tough isn't dishing out hits, but taking them and going to the net and scoring goals the way he did."

When Greene left UND after his junior season to turn pro with the Edmonton Oilers, he ranked fourth in all-time career penalty minutes at the University, many of them earned by retaliating for hits on Parise.

"It was just part of being a teammate and a friend," Greene explained. "You see a guy you care deeply about being abused out there, and you want to do something about it if you're in a position to do it. Sometimes that led to some penalties that weren't the best decisions on my part, but I thought it was necessary to say that if you want to take liberties, you're going to get hit, too – probably harder than anyone else."

Following their son's career mostly from afar in Matt's hometown of Grand Ledge, Mich., even Greene's parents were alarmed by his propensity to take penalties.

"Early on, I think a lot of the penalties he took were motivated by passion and a lot of desire to be there for his teammates," Jim Greene said. "But sometimes his judgment wasn't the best."

Greene's father believes that the coaching his son received at UND played a large role in his development as a professional player who's learned the difference between good penalties and bad penalties.

"I give tremendous credit to (former UND coach) Dean Blais, (head coach) Dave Hakstol, (assistant coach) Brad Berry and all the guys who were so involved in the development of his career," he said. "They knew the line between stifling a player and encouraging a player, seeing the player for who he was and who he could be. I think it was a question not only of Matt maturing, but also of him getting unbelievably good coaching."

What was it like to play for the Stanley Cup against Parise?

"It's crazy to think that on different teams, we were both trying to achieve the goal that we'd talked about 10 years ago," Green said. "At the same time, I was really proud to play against him and also to see the player and the man that he's turned into. He's unbelievable. To get a chance to play against him after having the history we do was pretty special."

Hakstol noted that having Greene return to reunite with former players and participate in a golf tournament to raise money for scholarships demonstrates the lasting friendships created among the players, coaches and communities surrounding UND.

"For Matt, it's all the experience he's had, not just over the past three months, but also in building his career toward the pinnacle of winning the Stanley Cup," he said. "When Matt Greene walks through the door here, he's 'Greenie,' the guy we all know. He's a great teammate to all the guys, and that never changes."

Patrick C. Miller

University Relations Writer

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