The two teams could not be in a more different spot.
Trevor Zins has been a defenseman on the St. Cloud State men's hockey roster each of the past two seasons and the Huskies reached the NCAA Division I championship game under head coach Brett Larson in April.
The University of St. Thomas is preparing for its first season as a Division I program and will not be eligible for the NCAA playoffs for five seasons after moving up from Division III under head coach Rico Blasi.
But for Zins, as much as he enjoyed his time with the Huskies, he wanted to play in college and give himself the opportunity to possibly play some pro games when his college career is over. So he is transferring to play for the Tommies.
"We have these end of the year meetings with coach Larson and when it was time, he sat me down and was honest with me," Zins said. "He's the type of guy who wants the best for everyone. He thought the best decision for me was to move to a place where I can play my game and be myself.
"With everyone coming back, it's just going to be another season of me trying to crack the lineup. I was happy that he was honest with me and told that to me and he cares about me. Giving me the chance to find a new opportunity and to be able to step in and play my game is just awesome."
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NCAA granted another year of eligibility to all players who played college hockey in the 2020-21 season. For the Huskies, it ended up meaning that seven of their top eight defensemen (Nick Perbix, Seamus Donohue, Spencer Meier, Brendan Bushy, Luke Jaycox, Ondřej Trejbal and Brady Ziemer) would all be returning for 2021-22.
Ziemer played in 18 games last season and the other six defensemen played in 29 or more games. St. Cloud State is bringing in two defenseman this fall in Jack Peart and Josh Luedtke.
Luedtke, a 20-year-old from Minnetonka, was the captain for the Des Moines Buccaneers in the United States Hockey League last season. Peart, an 18-year-old from Grand Rapids, was Mr. Hockey in Minnesota and then helped the Fargo Force reach the USHL Clark Cup Finals. Peart is ranked No. 27 among North American skaters eligible for the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
So the competition for playing time will be ramped up in the fall and Zins had only played in exhibition games in the last two seasons for the Huskies. But Zins said that working with assistant coaches Mike Gibbons, who retired after the 2019-20 season, and Dave Shyiak helped him round out his game.
"When I had that discussion with coach (Larson), I thought about it over a weekend to figure out what I wanted," said Zins, a 22-year-old from St. Michael. "He didn't say I had to leave. It was a decision for me if I wanted to leave and take the chance of finding a new place or not. I talked to my parents and I went into the (transfer) portal on a Monday and Larson said that he had been talking with Rico Blasi at UST over that weekend.
"Everything (Larson) did was telling him what a great player and person I am. Rico loved that and remembered me from watching me in Trail (British Columbia). I'm happy that it worked out to go there and blessed to be there."
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Getting to college
Zins, who is is listed at 6-foot-1 and 195 pounds, played two seasons for the St. Michael-Albertville High School team. In 52 games, he had 10 goals, 39 points and 28 penalty minutes for the Knights.
His senior year of high school, he played junior hockey for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the USHL. In two seasons with the Roughriders, Zins had nine points, 30 penalty minutes and was a minus-31 in 72 games.
In 2017, he made the move to play for the Trail Smoke Eaters in the British Columbia Hockey League. He had 13 points and 30 penalty minutes in 52 games that season. in 2018-19, Zins had 14 goals, 55 points and 70 penalty minutes in 70 games and ended up signing with the Huskies after that season.
"I loved it out there. It was beautiful, great people, it's a hockey town and it was a small enough town where if someone saw you, you'd hear, 'that guy is on Smoke Eaters,'" he said. "It was good hockey.
"The USHL has more depth and is more defensive. You can find a lot of shut-down 'D' there and and it's kind of like an NHL lineup where everyone knows their roles and there's tight games. When I went to the BCHL, it's more offensive and more skilled plays, but there's not as much depth ... But it was definitely fast paced and skilled."
Coming out of high school, Zins considered himself an offensive-minded defenseman. But he said after practicing with the Huskies for two seasons, he feels more well-rounded as a player.
"When I'm playing well, I'm skating well, moving the puck well, making plays, joining the rush and getting shots through," he said. "What else I can bring now is that I'm grateful that in St. Cloud, I got to work on my defensive side of the game. Gibby and Dave Shyiak both really helped me work on that. I give all the credit to them.
"I worked hard and competed every day against some of the top players in the country. Overall, I rounded out my game a lot better."
Zins is majoring in finance and has a 3.8 grade-point average and was an NCHC Distinguished Scholar-Athlete last season.
"My ultimate goal is to play hockey after college and that went into the decision to go to St. Thomas. I just need to play, but school is also important to me because hockey doesn't last forever," he said.
Zins has athletic parents. His mother, Erika, played tennis at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter. His father, Chris, played football and baseball for Gustavus.
Zins' sister, Bianca, graduated from St. Thomas with a degree in exercise science in 2017.
He will get a chance to compete against his ex-teammates right away next season. St. Thomas has its first Division I game against St. Cloud State at 6:05 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center.
"I think it's going to be both fun and really competitive for me," Zins said. "Fun to see the guys and ... fun to beat up on them now. I can't wait for it."
Besides Zins, Nolan Sawchuk, a defenseman from Burnsville who has played the last three seasons at UMass-Lowell, John Schuldt, a defenseman from Minnetonka who has played the last three seasons at Nebraska Omaha, have also decided to transfer to St. Thomas.
Goalie Peter Thome, who played the last four seasons at North Dakota, and forward T.J. Polglaze, who played the last three seasons at Michigan Tech, are the other transfers for St. Thomas so far.