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Parekh brings winning feeling to NHL scouting combine

Zayne Parekh Saginaw Spirit Zayne Parekh - Ontario Hockey League (@OHLHockey)

With the Memorial Cup final tied in the final minute of the third period, Saginaw Spirit defenceman Jorian Donovan gloved down a clearing attempt by the London Knights. The Ottawa Senators prospect fired the puck on net leading to a mad scramble in front. Spirit winger Josh Bloom, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, found the loose puck and shovelled it across the line.

"It gives me chills when I watch that," said Spirit defenceman Zayne Parekh, who was on the ice at the time. "The celebration was crazy. I know I had my hands on my head when we scored."

The goal came with 21.7 seconds remaining and proved decisive as the hosts held on to win the Canadian Hockey League championship.

"I didn't think it was real, honestly," said Parekh. "I thought there might be goaltender interference because of how many bodies were at the net, but then you watch it back on replay and nothing really happened there. I didn't know if he actually scored or not. I was just going to act like he did and celebrate. I just threw my stick up even though we hadn't won yet and jumped on Bloomer. When I got back to the bench I started crying, because I realized that we scored. It was just tears of joy." 

With the 4-3 victory, the Spirit avenged their loss to the Knights in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. Saginaw had also lost to London in the round-robin portion of the Memorial Cup. 

How many times has Parekh watched the replay of the game-winning goal since Sunday?

"Too many times," he said with a smile. "Too many. I was watching the other night again. I put the game on and replayed it. The amount of times I've seen that goal, it's unhealthy, that's for sure."

The celebration in Michigan went late into the night. Parekh got home at 5 a.m., but couldn't get to bed right away. 

"Got chills," he recalled. "Couldn't sleep and was running around the house. I called a couple of the guys and was like, 'Should I go to sleep? Should I go to sleep?' I did end up going to sleep for a couple of hours. We had to be at the rink at 10 in the morning."

There was a parade on Monday to mark the franchise's first ever CHL title. 

"The city really turned out well," said Parekh, who was named the CHL's defenceman of the year during a banquet on Saturday. "I think there were a couple thousand people there on a Monday at 12 o'clock. It just shows how much the city loves it and how much they really support us. We're glad we got to do something special for them."

Parekh didn't have much time to bask in the glory. On Tuesday, the 18-year-old from Nobleton, Ont. travelled to Buffalo for the NHL scouting combine. 

Parekh is expected to be selected early in the first round on June 28 when NHL teams gather at the Sphere in Las Vegas. He came in No. 7 on the latest list of top prospects compiled by TSN Hockey Insider Bob McKenzieParekh is No. 5 on the latest ranking by TSN director of scouting Craig Button

And those lists came out before Parekh produced five points in five games to help the Spirit win the Memorial Cup. 

During a conversation with TSN from Buffalo, Parekh reflected on the magical ending to a magical season, which saw him put up an eye-popping 33 goals and 96 points in 66 OHL games. The following is an edited transcript of the interview. 

TSN: How would you describe the last week of your life? 

Parekh: Kind of hectic. It's been fun, though. Like, I couldn't ask for a better last week with a pretty cool group of guys. It was a quick turnaround for me. I'm at the NHL combine now, but just trying to soak things in and enjoy. 

TSN: Montreal Canadiens prospect Owen Beck was named the MVP of the Memorial Cup. What did you learn about him this season?

Parekh: How good of a hockey player he is. I had never played against him the last two years. The first time I saw him, he had six points in his first Saginaw Spirit game. What stood out was just his ability to take over games. It's ridiculous. I've never seen a guy play 200 feet as well as he does. Maybe [Matyas] Sapovaliv does a good job of that too. Becker has everything it takes to succeed. Just a true winner. He completed his OHL career with a Memorial Cup, and he's got his OHL championship too [with the Peterborough Petes in 2023]. So, it's a pretty cool resume to have. 

TSN: Does the Memorial Cup win give you some momentum going into the combine? 

Parekh: Maybe a little bit. Everyone's been congratulating me, so it puts a smile on my face. I'm on top of the world and I'll probably be on top of the world for the next couple of days. I'm just trying to enjoy this. I'm away from the group of guys that I love, but I'm still texting them and making sure they're still having fun. It's something I'll have for the rest of my life.

TSN: How many interviews do you have scheduled this week? 

Parekh: I have 20, so I'm getting those done in a short couple of days here. It hasn't been too bad. It's a little tiring, but just trying to grind through them and soak it all in and enjoy it.  

TSN: Is the Memorial Cup a big talking point in the interviews?

Parekh: For sure. A couple of the guys have been on my case about it and telling me that we should've won an OHL championship too. But we got what we've been working towards our whole year, and I might still have another year [to go] for an OHL championship. So hopefully in the future I can get that one too. 

TSN: It's never enough, eh? 

Parekh: Never enough. You're just chasing that feeling. There's that high you get when you win and that's what I want to keep chasing.

TSN: What's your secret to handling pressure?

Parekh: I’ve got a great support group and I think that's huge. And when you have a bunch of older guys on your team that have been through it and guys that have been drafted before it kind of makes it easy on you. Just can't thank management, my teammates, and my support staff and family enough. They made it so easy on me to just be able to play hockey and stay away from the noise and enjoy what I'm doing. Not many kids get to go through their draft year and play in a Memorial Cup, so it was a pretty special year. I have no regrets. 

TSN: What do you enjoy the most about what you do? 

Parekh: Just being around the guys. Other than the winning, it's being around the guys. There wasn't a day where I didn't spend my time with Jorian Donovan. I think we hung out every day after we got eliminated in playoffs. So, it's just being able to spend time with the guys you love, the guys you share bonds with, and you're going to war with them every day. If you don't have a tight group you're not going to win and that just shows how tight our group was.

TSN: Where did your game improve the most this season? 

Parekh: Definitely defensively off the rush. I thought I did a great job from the start of the season until now just taking little steps in the right direction defensively. I think I lead with a good stick. Sometimes my defending gets overlooked because I play so much offence. I'm really proud of the small steps I've taken in terms of that. I'm not where I want to be, but I can't give enough thanks to [head coach] Chris Lazary, [associate coach] Jake Grimes and [assistant coach] Garrett Rutledge for all the work they've done with me. 

TSN: How do you work on that?

Parekh: Video helps for sure. You can find little things. But just practice habits and competing in practice and wanting to end plays early, wanting to pull off the line and kill 3-on-2 rushes. It's a lot of repetition. A lot of doing the same things over and over again. You got to do that, because you're trying to reach for perfection even though it's probably not attainable. Just a lot of reps and a lot of focusing in on the same things.

TSN: You've said in the past that you don't have one role model in today's game. You watch the elite guys like Colorado's Cale Makar, Vancouver's Quinn Hughes and New York's Adam Fox, and take things from their game. So, what do you take from Makar? 

Parekh: Just his deception. He's the deception king. No one really moves the way he does and can manipulate guys on the blueline like he does. That guy skates better than almost anyone in the NHL. 

TSN: What about Hughes? 

Parekh: He skates like the wind. He's probably up there with Cale skating-wise and may even be a better skater than him so I just see how he moves. There's not a lot of flashiness with Quinn. I mean, there is, but there's a lot of skating and getting out of ice, I've noticed. Half the time he's a one-man breakout. 

TSN: And Fox? 

Parekh: One of the smartest defenceman in the NHL. The reads he makes, the little plays he makes, it's fun to watch. He kind of slows the game down and is really patient with the puck. He's not moving as much as the other two, but he finds passing lanes like no one else does. He's one of the most confident guys on the ice. 

TSN: Where does your creativity come from? 

Parekh: It's a good question. I love to push my limits to see where I can take things. That's something I've done this year with seeing how far I can go with some of the moves I'm making. It's from a lot of video. I watch a lot of Makar. A lot of Makar. I have a crazy amount of videos on my phone of him. When I go on the ice for skates, I'm doing those moves he does at the blueline. It's been something that's kind of translated into my game with these small weight shifts on the blue line and things like that. In practice and when I'm at home with my skills coach Duncan Dalmao, we get into these little drills, and I'll add little things to the drill that I think are pretty creative. Trying to express my mind and have fun with it is how I go about things. 

TSN: When a team asks why they should pick you, what do you say? 

Parekh: I don't think there are many players that play the game like me. Obviously, I'm not the perfect prospect and I know that, but I'm confident in myself. I'm confident in my ability and I'm a super hungry kid. Like, I really want to get to the next level and I'm willing to do what it takes. I've told teams, 'I'm chasing that winning feeling.' You're not going to get many chances at winning. Winning the Memorial Cup is the high of junior hockey so the next thing I'm trying to chase is maybe another Memorial Cup or a Stanley Cup. I think I got that in me. I'm a kid that loves to win and I'm willing to do anything.