"Speak softly and carry a big stick." A West African proverb made famous by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt in discussing his views on American foreign policy in the early 20th century. Over 108 years after the leader of Rough Riders articulated those words at the Minnesota State Fair in 1901, they are words that describe Cedar Rapids RoughRider Michael Parks. Parks is a fairly soft-spoken young man, and while it's not certain how long the team-supplied Reebok sticks he uses are, it is certain that Parks lets his game do the talking. The winger doesn't talk loud, but his speed, skating, skill, and ability to make moves and plays at full speed, as well as his two-way play, sure make noise on the ice, and they've earned him selection to Team USA for three tournaments the past two seasons and a scholarship to the University of North Dakota. They're also highly likely to earn him selection at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft in June, in addition to serving him well in the future.
McKeen's correspondent Kevin Wey was able to talk to Michael Parks of the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders after a game in December. Parks discussed his selection to Team USA for the World Junior A Challenge, his game, his time with the St. Louis Selects, his hockey prior to midget major, his commitment to UND, and some of his favorites from yesteryear and today.
McKeen's: Back in November you were playing with Team USA at the World Junior A Challenge, and things turned out pretty well. Although I suspect I know the answer to this question, given who your coach is, when did you find out when you made the team, who told you, and what was your reaction?
Parks: I found out I made the team (pauses), I think it was about a month into the season, directly from coach [Mark] Carlson, and I was just real honored to be selected and real excited at the same time. I knew it was a big responsibility and I was real happy to be chosen to the team.
McKeen's: I figured it would be coach Carlson telling you.
McKeen's: But, sometimes I talk to people about things like this and they tell me, "Oh, my roommate told me." It's like, "Oh, okay," but that's more with the USHL All-Star Game. Before I continue with more questions on the World Junior A Challenge, you've played for Team USA before, both with the Select U-17 Team and the Select U-18 Team. How did you learn you'd made those two teams?
Parks: I found out I made the Under-17 and Under-18 Select Teams from the head coach of those teams, which was Eric Rud both years, with St. Cloud. I was told within several days to a week after the Select Festivals.
McKeen's: That seems to be, pretty much, the way it works with those.
McKeen's: Back to the World Junior A Challenge, what was your role on the team and who were your linemates?
Parks: The lines changed, the lines didn't stay the same the whole tournament. I played with a lot of different players in the league. My role was just to do whatever I could to help the team, whatever that was, just playing hard, smart hockey and doing whatever coach Carlson said.
McKeen's: You play a pretty good two-way game. I've watched you a number of times, and there's definitely a lot of different things that you can offer to a team like that. Of the three tournaments that you've played with Team USA, at least those are the ones I'm aware of, what were some of your favorite memories from each of those?
Parks: Oh, let me think here (pauses). Well, so far, definitely, I'd say the World Junior A Challenge is the one I'll have the best memories from, obviously because we won the gold medal. There's just countless things from the two years in Europe I've played, in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Just meeting all the other top players my age around the country, it's a lot of fun. You'll never forget them and you'll know them the rest of your life.
McKeen's: Right. You'll always have, kind of, that bond to share.
McKeen's: And you'll continue to see each through the college ranks and maybe further.
Parks: Yeah. I already see some of them through the USHL.
McKeen's: Oh, yes. Absolutely. Since you've been tabbed by Team USA so many times, it's fair to say you're a fairly decent player. So, what do you feel are the strengths of your game and the style that you play?
Parks: I just try to work as hard as I can every night and leave it all on the ice. One of my better assets is my speed and my skating ability.
McKeen's: I would agree. A number of my notes on you, including tonight, involves things like "Uses speed to open the defenseman and drives the net."
Parks: Yeah, speed and I try to drive the net whenever possible.
McKeen's: You're also pretty good at handling the puck at a high rate of speed. That's obviously a handy thing to have. On the flipside, players are always looking to improve, so what are some of the areas of your game that you're focusing on improving here in Cedar Rapids?
Parks: I want to become more of a complete player and be heavier on the puck, be stronger defensively, and always play physical, not just sometimes, and blocking shots. Just doing the tough things.
McKeen's: When you say everything, you mean absolutely everything.
Parks: Absolutely everything. There's always room for improvement.
McKeen's: Prior to playing for Cedar Rapids, you played for the St. Louis Selects. Who did you play for prior to that and, then, how did the Selects come about, because I know they're pretty new, and what made you decide to play for them?
Parks: Before I played for the Selects I played for the St. Louis Amateur Blues for several years, and then the Cavallini brothers, they used to play in the NHL for several different teams, and they were both with the Blues for a while, and they formed an organization, the St. Louis Selects, and the year I was on it was their inaugural year. The Cavallinis were great coaches and I really enjoyed playing for them, and that's why I decided to play for the Selects.
McKeen's: I remember back in the early 1990's when Paul and Gino were with the Blues and have the old hockey cards to prove it.
Parks: Yeah, you learn a lot from Paul and Gino.
McKeen's: No doubt, and you have a defenseman and?
Parks: ? a forward.
McKeen's: ? yeah, a forward.
Parks: Either way.
McKeen's: It works out very well. Did you play only for the Selects or did you also play high school in the St. Louis area?
Parks: No, I just played St. Louis Selects club hockey.
McKeen's: That's what most of the guys do, it seems. Every now and again I'll see someone with, say, the Amateur Blues who also played on?
Parks: ? on a high school team.
McKeen's: ? exactly, on a high school team like CBC. Sometimes you see them on Fox Sports Midwest.
Parks: Every once in awhile. Yeah, yeah. I didn't. I just decided not to do that, just to focus on club hockey.
McKeen's: It looks like it's worked out well for you so far. We've touched upon this with the age groups a bit, did you play with the St. Louis Jr. Blues, or Amateur Blues I should call it, all the way up or did you play for other clubs?
Parks: Yeah, I started playing for the Blues, I think, first year of bantam, second year of bantam, minor midget, then I made the jump to St. Louis Selects for major midget.
McKeen's: When did you first start playing hockey, originally, and how did you get that start?
Parks: Originally, I got into the hockey through family. My parents signed me up when I was little to "Learn to Skate" and I've been playing ever since.
McKeen's: Do you remember how old you were at that point?
Parks: I would say five.
McKeen's: And the organizations you skated for from that point?
Parks: I played a lot of roller hockey before I ever played ice hockey. I played part of roller until I was 13. I didn't even start playing Triple-A ice hockey until I was 14.
McKeen's: Oh, wow.
Parks: So, up until then I just played roller hockey. I can't remember the team I played for before the Blues.
McKeen's: That's impressive, though. You started ice skating at five, though, right?
Parks: Yeah, four or five.
McKeen's: You're committed to the University of North Dakota. At what point did colleges start contacting you, to the degree they could, and what other schools looked at you, if I might ask, and what made you decide to become a Fighting Sioux, if they continue to be called that?
Parks: (Small chuckle) I think colleges started approaching me after the Select Festivals, Select 15 year. I started to get a little exposure (pauses), I went up to North Dakota with the St. Louis Selects. We played a, like, camp tournament kind of thing up at their rink, they hosted one. I saw the place, loved it, met the coaching staff, just incredibly impressed with the place. There's a great hockey tradition there and the number of guys they've put in the NHL and in the pros is amazing, and that's my long-term goal, so that's why I decided there.
McKeen's: Ralph Engelstad has definitely left a legacy for the University of North Dakota that gives their hockey program a little bit of an edge.
Parks: Yeah, and my dad's name is Ralph, also (chuckles).
McKeen's: This is your draft year, and I think every scouting service has you ranked to go somewhere. Have NHL teams expressed interest in you and have you filled out any of the questionnaires and what would being drafted mean to you?
Parks: Well, I have not been approached by any teams or anything. I don't want to look into the lists or all the mock drafts or anything like that, I just want to come to the rink every day and work as hard as I can and when draft day comes around I'll be really excited and I'll be looking forward to it, but, until then, I just want to become the best player I can and not think about it too much.
McKeen's: Sure. If you take care of things each shift, that'll take care of itself with the draft.
Parks: Yeah, yeah. I try not to think about it too much, just keep playing hard.
McKeen's: To round things out, who were some of your favorite players growing up and why and some players today who you'd like to equate to?
Parks: Umm, one of my favorite players growing up was Al MacInnis, who played for the St. Louis Blues. He was my head coach one year.