By Mark Monroe
The Toledo Blade
In Their Words is a weekly feature appearing Sundays in The Toledo Blade’s sports section. Toledo Blade sports writer Mark Monroe talked with Nick Parillo, who played four seasons for the Toledo Storm. The 5-foot-8 sparkplug was a fan favorite and ranked sixth in franchise history in points.
It seemed perfectly fitting when Nick Parillo chipped in the final goal to ever be scored in the history of the Sports Arena.
Parillo exemplified the rugged, charismatic nature of the thousands of players who competed for tough Toledo teams over the years at One Main Street.
Parillo overcame physical limitations to become a speedy goal scorer who also was never afraid to drop the gloves.
Parillo started his pro career in Toledo and played four seasons for the Storm (2002-05 and ’06-’07). He scored 73 goals, dished out 125 assists and played 262 games. His 494 points are sixth most in franchise history. He is seventh all time in scoring (198) and sixth in penalty minutes (494). On April 14, 2007, Parillo used his knowledge of the Sports Arena’s quirky boards to tap in the final goal.
The 5-8, 180-pound forward, who was born in Schenectady, N.Y., in 1977, played for Merrimack College. He then spent six seasons in the minor leagues, playing 21 games in the American Hockey League. He was an ECHL all-star for Toledo in 2002-03 when he helped the Storm win the regular-season title.
Parillo is a salesman for Tiger Material Handling, an industrial sales company in Clay Center, near Genoa. Parillo and his wife Nikki, a Toledo native, live in Perrysburg with their 5-year-old son, Gage.
“SCORING THE LAST goal in that arena meant a lot to me. It was kind of closure for me and the arena. And it wasn’t a good goal. It was a dump in that caromed off the boards when the goalie went behind the net. It squirted out to the slot and only a guy that had been there would know about it. It was a weird thing with the corner. The goalie just looked at me like, ‘What the heck?’
“I have great memories of that building. It was very sad to see it go down. The fans were great. They’re the reason why I stayed in town. It’s a close knit community. People still come up to me. I’ll be at a gas station, and they’ll come up and say ‘Hey, Nick.’ It’s pretty cool. The support through the good and bad times has been tremendous.”
“I GOT INVITED to Red Wings camp right out of college. During an intra-squad game I got into a fight with Darren McCarty. I guess he thought I gave him a cheap hit. He dropped his gloves and asked me if I was sure [that I wanted to fight]. I couldn’t turn it down. The staff and fans were watching. I didn’t want to be chicken. He won the fight. I got a couple of black eyes. He told me to thank him after the fight. I guess he thought it was a privilege. I got into it with Sean Avery, too. I didn’t like him at all. He was an aggravator. That was a better fight. I think I got a draw in that one.
“Fighting is just part of the game. That’s how I was brought up. I wouldn’t label me as a tough guy by any means. If two guys have a beef with each other, why do the cheap stuff with the stick? I always loved the toughness of a minor league game.”
“I HAD TO WORK really hard. I was always a small guy. A guy my size that doesn’t have talent like Paul Kariya, you have to work for everything. You have to work 10 times harder. But I was always a little bit faster because of my size. It helped me out a lot moving up through the levels.
“When I was told I wouldn’t be playing in Grand Rapids [AHL] and I would be going to Toledo, I was upset. But Toledo grows on you. I always wanted to go up. But when I came back down, I was never disappointed to come back.”
“THAT FIRST TEAM [2002-03] was built around young guys who were under contract with Detroit. We had Darryl Bootland and Matt Ellis. But we had great veterans like Jeff Mitchell, too. We also had great coaching with Claude Noel. We ended up winning the [regular season] league title that year. We kind of had a party with the fans.
“That rookie season, I got called up to Grand Rapids. I scored a goal and I thought, ‘Oh boy, here’s my shot.’ But we were on our way back from Cincinnati, and they dropped me off in the back of the Sports Arena where my car was parked. It only took me a day to get over it.”
“EVERY PLAYER knew about the Sports Arena. The biggest thing was the atmosphere. The fans were literally hanging over the ice. They were part of the game. I made a lot of friends with the fans. They talked to me during warm-ups and asked me if I was going to fight this guy or that guy. It was a small barn, but the fans were rowdy.”
“I remember sitting in the penalty box, and someone would offer me a beer. I’ll never forget Bootland sitting in the penalty box eating a box of popcorn. It wasn’t uncommon to grab a sip of beer while you were in the box.
“That Sports Arena was like a social event. It wasn’t just about watching hockey. Friendships developed and were maintained. That’s how I have my job now. My wife had contacts, and my boss was a Storm fan.”
“I WOULD ALWAYS go for a run about an hour or so before the game. I would run up the hill behind the Sports Arena. There was an old nature trail that led to the docks. I’d come back for the coaches meeting 20 minutes before warm-ups and I’d be covered in sweat. No one knew anything about this. If I didn’t do it, I would have a bad game. So rain, snow, it didn’t matter. I’d have to run.”
“IN JOHNSTOWN [in 2007] I got blindsided by a Chiefs’ player and fell on my back. I could not move my legs for a bit. It put me into shock at first. But it was like 10 seconds before I got a grip. I always made a point to get back up right away. I hated when players would be laying on the ice for 10 minutes and then they’d be back out for the next shift. So this was serious.
“I have aspirations [to make a comeback]. But I have a bad back right now. I still love the game so much. I’m fairly confident I’ve built up enough muscle over the area in my back. I’ve talked with [Walleye officials] here and there.
“I HAVE NO DOUBT [the new arena] will be a great place to watch a game. The Hens do everything first class. Toledo hockey fans have been without hockey for two years. I think it will be a big hit.”