The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Geno Parrish still can see the faces of the people of Beaumont, Texas.
The anger, the hurt, the desperation.
He still can see rows of air mattresses crowded on the floor of the arena where his team, the Texas Wildcatters, was supposed to play hockey this season.
He still can see uprooted trees stacked like matchsticks in the road and on rooftops. He still can see beaten-down folks reduced to begging for loose change.
It’s all so vivid in his mind.
Parrish can talk about his harrowing experience in relative safety, now that he’s with the Stockton Thunder, which will play at Fresno at 7 p.m. today. But for a while, his life was uprooted like those trees, thanks to a pinwheel of fury called Hurricane Rita.
“We stuck around for six days in a hotel,” Parrish said. “Then it was announced Beaumont was going to suspend operations.”
Parrish left Beaumont with his fiancée, Rochelle, their 7-year-old son, Weiland, and their 4-year-old daughter, Ruby, and drove home to Minnesota. Parrish had $17 in his checking account when they arrived. The happy-go-lucky defenseman out of St. Cloud State had no team, no money, and a family to feed.
“I had to take out a loan from my family,” Parrish said. “They’re good for that.”
Parrish’s whimsical sense of humor helped him cope, but he was feeling pretty low at the time. Finally, good news came when Thunder coach Chris Cichocki phoned with a contract offer. Cichocki tried to sign Parrish in the offseason, but Parrish decided to play for Texas because he had friends on the team, and because the Wildcatters make East and West Coast swings during the season. But that seemed trivial after the hurricane.
Parrish needed a job.
“Chris said, ‘Are you still interested?” said Parrish, 30. “The problem was I’m an older guy and I can’t just say, ‘I’m going to play for ‘X’ number of dollars a week.’“
Parrish had a family to think about. What was Stockton like? How were the schools? Would he make enough money to house and feed his family?
“Chris said everything is still as it was,” Parrish said. “The offer was still on the table.”
Parrish signed the dotted line and is happy to be in Stockton.
“I’d be in a parka and a wool hat if I was home right now,” said Parrish, smiling under a cloudless sky earlier this week. “This is great.”
The Thunder will look to Parrish for defense and scoring in this, his eighth season as a pro. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound former ECHL all-star plays more of a finesse game, but he can be physical, too.
“He’s one of the best defenders in the league,” Cichocki said. “We’re expecting him to provide offense from the blue line, and he will be instrumental in our power play.”
In 2002-03, Parrish was third among defenseman in the ECHL with 66 points and an all-star with the Greensboro Generals. He scored a career-high 11 goals with Greensboro the following season. In 2004-05, he fulfilled a lifelong dream to play in Europe when he signed with Freiburg, Germany.
His professional career began in 2000-01 with the Fort Wayne Komets of the United Hockey League. This season, he has two assists with the Thunder.
“I’m not looking at it like I’m winding my career down,” Parrish said. “This is all I want to do, play hockey.”
Parrish is serious about his profession, but off the ice he takes on a different persona.
On Monday, he showed up to practice wearing a Superman Halloween costume designed to fit a 9-year-old.
“The neck was cutting off the circulation to my head,” Parrish said. “I do most of those things because looking stupid is funny and I don’t mind looking stupid.”
Parrish is a cut-up with an engaging, life-affirming personality. Every team needs a Geno Parrish. Someone who can break the tension and make the game fun.
“Geno being a veteran knows I have to do my job,” Cichocki said. “I sometimes have to send a message in a boisterous way.”
Then smiling, Cichocki said, “But after I leave that room, it’s up to guys like Geno to keep the room together.”
In a sense, Parrish is the good cop when Cichocki has to be the bad cop.
“I can lighten the mood,” Parrish said. “It’s a lot easier to play the game you love with a smile on your face than it is to be aggravated.”
Parrish and Thunder goalie Jake Moreland were teammates at St. Cloud State. Moreland wouldn’t go into specifics about their college hijinks for fear it would incriminate him.
“He’s definitely a joker, I’ll tell you that much,” Moreland said. “You never know with him. He keeps everybody laughing.”
Parrish hopes to laugh all the way to the NHL, where his 28-year-old brother, Mark, is in his fifth season with the New York Islanders. Parrish said his brother was blessed with better genes.
“I work just as hard as my brother in the offseason to stay in shape,” Parrish said. “I can play pretty well. I’m not the biggest guy on the ice, but there are 5-9 guys in the NHL, and my hat’s off to them.”
In the meantime, Parrish plans to defend, score and keep his teammates loose.
“I enjoy the game, and hopefully that’s as contagious to this team as it has for every other team I’ve been on,” Parrish said. “That’s my greatest asset.”
And that’s no laughing matter.