Francis Pare wants to maintain a singular focus this season: helping the Griffins drive toward a playoff spot.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
When Francis Pare moved past Jamie Tardif last season to claim second place on the Griffins’ all-time goal-scoring list behind Michel Picard, it was an accomplishment the Quebec native never would have imagined four years earlier.
Pare came to Grand Rapids in 2008 as an undrafted free agent, looking for an opportunity to make his mark in the pros after recording 54 goals during his final season of junior hockey with Chicoutimi of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
“If you told me that first year that I would become the second-leading scorer for the Griffins, I wouldn’t have believed you,” Pare said as he prepared for his fifth season with the team.
In fact, Pare remembers doubting whether he would even get a chance to play in Grand Rapids.
“I didn’t play my first couple of games, and I was mentally struggling a little bit,” he recalled. “I thought, ‘What’s going to happen to me? Maybe I’ll get sent down to the ECHL, and I won’t be able to show what I can do.’”
Luck, however, was on his side.
“When (former Griffins coach) Curt Fraser gave me a chance, I took it,” Pare said, detailing how he had a goal and an assist in his first game in a Griffins uniform, a 7-3 victory in Toronto on Oct. 19, 2008. “After that, it was just a matter of confidence.”
Pare admits that he watched his rise in the Griffins’ record book with mixed feelings. “I’m so proud to wear the jersey every night... but I’ve been in Grand Rapids a long time.”
He remembers sitting next to Tardif after the latter had passed Kip Miller and Derek King on the goals list. “He said, ‘This is no good. It means I’m still not playing in the NHL.’ I was kind of laughing about it, and now I’m in the same position.”
Pare has no aspirations of ever catching Picard, who retired with nearly double the number of goals (158 to Pare’s 80). “I still want to be part of the Red Wings,” he stated matter-of-factly.
He is in the last year of a two-year contract and knows that what happens this season will go a long way to determining his future in the Red Wings organization or elsewhere.
Pare finished strong last season, registering 22 points in his last 18 games, but he has struggled with consistency. His goal totals are 24, 16, 24 and 16 the past seasons, but he has endured long stretches without putting the puck into the net.
He hopes to take a different approach this season after running into Martin Russell, who was his coach in Midget AAA during the 2003-04 season, when he had 52 goals in 38 games.
“I saw him while I was working out this summer, and he said I should stay focused on every single day,” Pare said. “That way you don’t worry about the past and you won’t look too far ahead.”
Pare speculates that he has been putting too much pressure on himself, especially when the goals aren’t coming and the stress of a scoreless stretch starts to wear on his psyche.
“I want to work on being more relaxed, just taking one day at a time,” he said. “If you look at 76 games, the big picture is too much. I want to approach each day the same way, whether it’s a practice, a workout or a game.
“I need to be ready to do the job every single day this year.”
Having played 295 games in a Griffins jersey, Pare will be classified as a veteran for the 2012-13 campaign.
“There are going to be new kids coming into camp, and it’s going to be pretty cool to be one of the older guys,” he said. “But it’s kind of weird. I’m still only 25 years old and I’m going to be seen as an old guy. I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
In reality, he doesn’t expect that being in a position of leadership will make much of a difference in his personality.
“I’m not going to change,” he said. “I’m going to go through the same old routines, be nice to everybody, play jokes on the guys. I’m not a big talker. I want to show it on the ice.”
By taking one day at a time, Pare hopes to avoid the slow starts that have plagued him two of the last three seasons.
Last season, he didn’t score a goal until the 13th game. Three seasons ago, his first goal of the year came in his 22nd game.
“I can’t start with no goals in 10 or 20 games – that’s not good for me or my teammates – that’s terrible,” he said. “We need a good start and to get some points as a team early.”
Frankly, Pare is tired of long summers, even though he enjoys spending time with family and friends and playing a lot of golf.
“It’s been a pain – the summers have been way too long,” he said. “It’s been three years now that we haven’t made the playoffs and that’s enough. It doesn’t make sense at all, especially with all of the good players we have. It’s crazy.”
Pare genuinely feels that the Griffins should have been playoff-bound last season.
“We came close but not close enough,” he said. “With all of the skill on our team, we should have found ourselves in the playoffs, not fighting for a spot in the playoffs. We just didn’t play well enough as a team.”
Serving as a “black ace” with Detroit during the Stanley Cup Playoffs the last two years was gratifying for Pare, but even though he was generally happy with his performance, it still left something to be desired.
“I think I played well, but not good enough to get a callup to the NHL, so it wasn’t good enough,” he said. “I’m not going to be satisfied with anything less.”
Pare realizes that he still has a lot of hard work ahead if ever wants to convince the Red Wings to give him an opportunity to skate at Joe Louis Arena.
“I’m in the AHL for a reason,” he said. “Obviously, I’ve got some things to work on, things that I need to improve if I want to put myself in a position to be called up to the NHL.”
So he will continue to work on his defensive play and being more patient with the puck, while focusing on those little things that can help the Griffins win games this season.
“It’s kind of sad that (coach) Fraser left (to become an assistant with the Dallas Stars), but I’m ready to work for someone new,” Pare said. “I’m ready to prove that I will give everything I’ve got.”