Kukla's Korner

Goal-scoring record no minor feat

The 2008-9 NHL season isn’t even half over and it’s already shaping up as one of the more enjoyable seasons in recent memory.  Engaging storylines, both positive and negative, are to be found in just about every corner of North America; at opposite ends of the continent the San Jose Sharks and Boston Bruins are off to amazing starts, Sean Avery and Boots Del Biaggio are keeping the scandal sheets filled, and Mats Sundin still has people wondering if and for whom he’ll play.

Amidst all that drama, there is another story worth paying attention to, and it’s in danger of being overlooked until too late.  It highlights the endurance and professional commitment that makes hockey players so endearing to longtime fans, and for anyone looking for a pop culture link to the world of hockey, we have a Hollywood character come to life, except on the ice instead of the baseball diamond.

Dear Readers, I’d like to introduce you to Don Parsons of the IHL’s Bloomington (Illinois) PrairieThunder, who is about to become the all-time leading goal scorer in minor league hockey history.

Yes, Parsons could well be considered hockey’s version of Crash Davis, the minor league catcher portrayed by Kevin Costner in the 1988 baseball classic Bull Durham.  Davis chased the minors’ home-run record in obscurity, haunted by melancholy for what was his career highlight, a short stint in the majors that was “the 21 greatest days of my life.”  Unlike Davis, Parsons doesn’t have any NHL experience in his lengthy pro career, which began in 1991 with the ECHL’s Nashville Knights, took him north of the border for brief stops with the Manitoba Moose and St. John’s Maple Leafs, and continues with Bloomington in the IHL, where has produced more than a point-per-game since joining the PrairieThunder for the 2007-8 season, in which he was also named team MVP.  His longest affiliation has been with the Memphis Riverkings, for which he played from 2000 to 2006.

Parsons currently stands with 674 career goals, just three shy of Kevin Kerr’s 677, and you can follow the chase atop both his team’s and the IHL’s official website.  Mike Loftus in the Patriot Ledger tells how Parsons himself couldn’t have predicted this path for his hockey career:

The funny thing is, there was every reason to doubt Parsons would ever be in such a position. He only scored 18 goals in 107 career NCAA games at UMass-Lowell, after all – but there was a reason.

“I was a defenseman until I turned pro,” said Parsons, who’s lighting it up these days (13 goals in 14 games) with the Bloomington (Ill.) Prairie Thunder of the International Hockey League. “Whether it was youth hockey (where he was often coached by his Dad, Don Sr., who runs the pro shop at Bridgewater Ice Arena), or at Archies (Frank Quinn coached Parsons there) or Lowell (first under Bill Riley, then Bruce Crowder), my teams never seemed to have enough defensemen, so I always ended up playing back there. But all along, I really wanted to play forward.”

There’s no word in that story whether Parsons believes in “long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days,” like Crash Davis.  With goal-scoring totals like his, I’m guessing he believes instead in “long, slow power play shifts that last three minutes”.  Although when his profile on the PrairieThunder website lists the question “Are you a lover or fighter”, he does answer Lover...

With upcoming home games Friday and Saturday against the Port Huron IceHawks and Kalamazoo Wings, “Pars” has a chance to set the record in front of the home fans, which would be the ideal setting.  Although for a well-traveled veteran like him, is there really such a thing as a “home” game any more?

No matter the case, it’s a remarkable tale that’s worth bringing before the broader NHL audience so that this amazing achievement can be celebrated properly.  So pass the word, and let’s recognize a guy who admirably embodies the title of “professional hockey player.”

*Special tip o’ the hat to DanaFosburgh who pointed me to this story on Twitter.

Filed in: NHL Commentary, | On the Forecheck | Permalink
 

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