Boys hockey: Century's Zmolek making a name for himself
Riese Zmolek's father was a Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist as a high school senior, a standout defenseman at the University of Minnesota and a first-round NHL Draft pick.To Riese, though, Doug Zmolek has always just been his dad.
Riese Zmolek's father was a Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist as a high school senior, a standout defenseman at the University of Minnesota and a first-round NHL Draft pick.
To Riese, though, Doug Zmolek has always just been his dad.
There's never been any pressure to live up to what his father has accomplished. Rather, Riese has worked relentlessly to become the best defenseman in the Big Nine Conference and one of the best in the state.
"I just go out there and try to be the best player I can be," said Riese Zmolek, a Rochester Century senior who is entering his fourth season on the Panthers' varsity.
Century coach Josh Klingfus has seen Zmolek's work ethic up close for close to five years.
"If you go to his house in the summer time, you'll probably see him out there flipping a tractor tire up and down a hill," Klingfus said. "He puts in so much time and hard work off the ice. He really understands what his dad has done and he knows that it won't come to him just because of his name."
Riese has made his own name in hockey circles throughout the state.
He played in the Upper Midwest Elite League this fall, a league designed for the top high school players in the state to receive exposure to college and junior hockey scouts, and to play close to 20 games before the start of the high school season.
Zmolek played on Team Northeast, along with Rochester Lourdes defenseman Griff Slightam and goalie Jack Burkel. Zmolek elevated his play throughout the fall season, recording eight points in 19 regular season games. He then scored three goals in three playoff games as Team Northeast won the UMEL playoff championship.
"He gained a lot of confidence, knowing he can play at that level," Klingfus said. "That was very important for Riese. He got pushed to his limit every single game."
Zmolek also practiced a handful of times and played in two games for the Austin Bruins of the North American Hockey League. Bruins head coach Chris Tok, a former Division I assistant at Michigan Tech, said he liked Zmolek's effort and fearless attitude.
"He played very well," Tok said. "He's decisive. He maybe didn't always make the right decision, but if he made a mistake, he did it going full speed. We can work with that."
Zmolek enters his senior season at Century with 25 goals and 62 career points, which includes a sophomore season that was cut in half because of a knee injury.
"His skill has gotten so much better" from his freshman season til now, Klingfus said. "His confidence has grown and so has his leadership on and off the ice. Plus, he's just a great kid, very respectful."
Zmolek will play on an organized team with his younger brother Will, a sophomore defenseman, for the first time this season. He'll also play on a team with 18 seniors who are determined to improve on their 12-12-1 season of a year ago and know this is their last chance at a Big Nine Conference championship.
"We've all grown up and matured together," Zmolek said of the big senior class. "We had a rough season two years ago and we don't want to go through that again. I was miserable sitting in the stands and watching the guys. Missing all those games reminded me that hockey is a gift."