Teammates recall Jeff Parker’s smile, on-ice attributes
For an older generation of Rochester Americans fans, the most vivid recollection of Jeff Parker may very well be from the 1987 Calder Cup playoffs and the pre-game brawl with the Hershey Bears.
A fight between Amerks tough-guy Andy Ristau and Bears enforcer Jeff Brubaker was already over but mayhem continued amongst more than three dozen players on the ice of Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium.
From the melee emerged Parker, a rookie forward with the Amerks, and Bears rookie goon Greg Smyth. They traded punches until Parker’s sweater and shoulder pads came off. And then it was just Parker throwing punches at a defenseless Smyth, who was now in a hockey fight like none before because he had nothing to grab.
That night was the defining moment in that first-round playoff series victory over the “big, bad Bears.” The Amerks won that game, 5-4 in overtime. They went on to oust Hershey in five games, sent the Binghamton Whalers packing in six and outlasted the Sherbrooke Canadiens in a seven-game Calder Cup finale.
“That championship team had a great mix of veterans, middle guys and rookies like Jeff Parker, Ray Sheppard, Bobby Logan and Benny Hogue,” said Jody Gage, the Amerks Hall of Famer and the leading scorer of that championship team. “Parksie brought a lot of energy and he always had a smile in the locker room.”
Jeff Parker died on Monday in his native Minnesota. He was 53. The cause of death, according to the obituary on twincities.com, was cardio pulmonary hypertension. His funeral service will be Friday (Sept. 15) at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, Minn.
“That’s too young,” Gage said. “He was a big, powerful guy and he hit hard.”
Parker played most of his first two professional seasons with the Amerks (1986-87, 1987-88) and also skated parts or all of five seasons in the NHL. He played 137 games for the Sabres (16 goals, 19 assists, 35 points, 161 penalty minutes) and four games with the Hartford Whalers in his final pro season, 1990-91.
That’s when the effects of two concussions forced him to retire, and impacted his everyday life right up until his death. He was part of an ongoing class action lawsuit against the NHL, claiming the league didn’t do enough to ensure player safety.
TSN.ca has reported that Melina Miller, Parker’s partner of 10 years, wrote in an e-mail that his family plans “to donate his brain to CTE studies in hopes that it can help prevent brain damage in others.”
While playing for the Whalers, a thundering check by Kevin Hatcher of the Washington Capitals drove his head into the stanchion of the glass, and his head then hit the ice. As he was helped off the ice, he thought he still played for the Sabres.
“He was just a really kind soul,” said new Sabres coach Phil Housley, who played with Parker in Buffalo and against him growing up in the Twin Cities. Both were 1982 high school graduates, Parker from Mariner High School in White Bear Lake and Housley from South St. Paul.
“He was a hard-nosed player that protected his teammates. I knew he was going through some health problems but he looked great the last time I saw him. I’m going to miss him.”
Former Sabres tough-guy winger Rob Ray was Parker’s teammate for two seasons. Parker’s role in that 1987 brawl in the Aud may also have been the inspiration for Ray’s famed fighting technique. Ray would intentionally lose his sweater so his opponent had nothing to grab.
“Parksie had the body for it, though,” Ray said with a smile. “He was a talented guy and a lot of fun. He was good people.”
The obituary on twincities.com can be found here: