Friday, February 28, 2014

Michael Parks: Invisible Man

Let's talk about the Flyers prospect at a major Division I program, a junior who is considered a prime mover on his team.

No, not him. The other one. A lot further north and west and whose club, once a national powerhouse, faced an uphill battle to be recognized among the best in the country once more.

That's right...Michael Parks.

Parks has put together a third campaign in Grand Forks that has been largely ignored when compared to the printed hype Shayne Gostisbehere's endured for the No. 3-ranked Union Dutchmen and the travails with the uber-stacked London Knights that goaltender Anthony Stolarz has seen since jumping from Nebraska-Omaha midway through his freshman year.

Selected in the fifth round of the 2010 draft, Parks has risen to become a leader on this years' Fighting Sioux squad, adorned with the "A" of alternate captain. The 22-year-old native of St. Louis has picked up 26 points (10G, 16A) in 30 games, good enough for second on the club in all three categories. That performance has helped North Dakota ascend to the top of the brand-new NCHC, though pushing through into the upper echelon of the national rankings proved elusive until this past week, with a debut at #10.

It's quite a turnaround from a tumultuous sophomore campaign, one which was slowed by the infamous and nebulous "lower-body injury" suffered during an October exhibition contest against the University of Manitoba -- that ended up costing him a chunk of the first half of the schedule and limiting him to seven goals and one assist in 25 appearances.

The Fighting Sioux are hot. Heading into a two-game weekend set against conference rival and fifth-ranked St. Cloud State, they have gone 14-2-1 since late November, and they have won four straight games by a combined 21-6 count. That's a searing offensive pace for a team which struggled to top three goals-per-game from the start of the season through the early part of this sizzling streak of success. Their record currently stands at 18-9-3.

Parks has risen to the occasion, stoking the fires by collecting seven goals and eight assists over 12 games since the calendar moved to 2014.

Parks is a rare commodity within the Flyers organization: a draft pick who chose the Division I path who has, thus far, suffered neither hype nor dismissal, one who won't feel the pull or demand to elevate his game so that the club can entice him to move from college to the pros. From the sound of the following from Fighting Sioux beat writer Brad Elliott Schlossman of the Grand Forks Herald, he's a versatile man in the Michael Raffl mold:

"He is used in all special teams situations. His speed and ability to separate a guy from the puck help on the PK. His job is screening the goalie and looking for rebounds...he scores almost all of his goals within 10 feet of the net on rebounds or wraparounds."

Here's video of Parks' carom-controlling prowess against long-time rival Denver:

Afraid of those demon shootouts, the bane of the Orange and Black? Don't be:

"If he comes in alone on a goalie, he has a lot of poise to make a good move and score (or shoot 5-hole). UND has not been in a single shootout this year, but if they get in one, Parks will be their second shooter (after Rocco Grimaldi)."

Hit the link for a prime example of that poise, from a home game during his freshman year.

He's just the type of player the franchise needs as an anchor, one who will be left alone to complete his growth in college and then be allowed to grow into whatever role the Phantoms or Flyers wish to provide.

Without extraneous distractions and extra attention paid to first-round picks and those who wish to tout franchise saviors at whatever position is the need of the moment, Parks should be free to make of his opportunity to stick in the pros all about his own smarts, ability and adaptability. Schlossman backed up that sentiment, ending with the following:

"He still has work to do before becoming an NHL player, but I wouldn't rule out his chances of playing in the NHL at some point if he keeps developing. He's definitely moving in the right direction. I'm pretty certain he will be back at UND next season..."

With two more weeks left in the college hockey regular-season slate, Parks will be called upon to lead the way as the Sioux try to break a deadlock atop the conference standings, which UND leads by virtue of one more win than the Huskies. Things can get very complicated if both schools end up with identical records, as the NCHC has five separate tiebreaking rules.

And BTW, if the Sioux keep rolling right through the postseason, their fans are guaranteed to be the largest contingent present at the Frozen Four next month.

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