ROCHESTER, Minn. — Three Division I hockey players in one house, and there haven’t been any scuffles or trash talking.
At least not yet.
So say brothers Riese, Will and Bennett Zmolek.
“It’s awesome being home together,” said Bennett, the youngest of Doug and Jenny Zmolek’s three boys. “I’m not able to see any of their games during the season … now we have a full house. I really hadn’t seen them since we all left last summer.”
When concerns about the coronavirus and the disease it causes, COVID-19, begin to fade and life begins to return to a new normal, the Zmolek boys will scatter again.
Riese will be a senior at Minnesota State University in the fall, Will will be a sophomore at Bemidji State, and Bennett will head back to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for his second full season of junior hockey with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders.
“We’ve all been back home for (more than) a week,” Will said earlier this week. “It doesn’t happen a lot anymore. We can’t really go anywhere right now, but the next few months will be fun. Our parents seem pretty happy to have us all back.”
The brothers haven’t been all together for such a stretch of time since Century’s 2014-15 season — the only time Riese and Will played together on a team; Riese as a senior, Will a sophomore — ended. Riese left to play for the Austin Bruins that spring, then moved on to Cedar Rapids in the fall.
“It’s still going to take some time to process this all,” Riese said of MSU’s season coming to an abrupt halt, with the Mavericks holding a legitimate belief they could win a national championship. “Even when I pulled up to our house (on March 17), it felt weird. I was hoping every day when I’d wake up that it was a bad dream.”
While Bennett was unable to watch most of his brothers games this season, Riese and Will were reunited on the ice five times in the past three months. Riese’s MSU team won three of those five games, including the last game of the regular season, when the Mavericks topped Bemidji State 4-1 at Bemidji on Feb. 29 to clinch the WCHA regular season championship.
“I’m pretty sure Will (and BSU) was in the same boat as we were,” Riese said. “Everyone was so heartbroken. I’m pretty sure (BSU) would’ve gotten into the NCAA tournament. It’s not easy to get there, to put in a whole year, then this happens. It’s a lot to handle in a short period of time.”
Both teams were likely to make the NCAA tournament field. MSU, still looking for its first win in the national tournament, would have likely been a No. 1 seed in one of the four regionals with its 31-5-2 record and two Hobey Baker Award finalists in forward Marc Michaelis and goalie Dryden McKay.
“It was really tough to sit in that team meeting,” Riese said of the Mavericks’ final get-together as a team. “I have a frog in my throat just talking about it. The stuff we’ve been through together, grinding every day. We grew so close … not getting a last chance to try for a championship with that group. It was hard to look around the locker room.”
While Riese and Will were on the ice with their teams, preparing for practices when the news of the canceled postseason broke, Bennett was home in Rochester, recovering from mononucleosis. Bennett, who has also committed to the Mavericks, didn’t get the chance for a face-to-face goodbye with his teammates.
“We faced a lot of injury and illness this year,” Bennett said of the Roughriders’ season. “I felt like, just all the practices and everything, those were always competitive and helped me improve my all-around game.”
The silver lining for the Zmoleks has been some unexpected time together at home. Even the youngest sibling, Ella, a middle-schooler who bucked the family trend and excels at basketball, seems happy to have her brothers back.
“I think she really likes it when we’re home,” Bennett said. “She said it was too quiet with us gone.”
All in the family
Former Century boys hockey standouts Riese, Will and Bennett Zmolek all had strong seasons cut short. They’re all back in Rochester now, working out and training at their family’s home. A look at their 2019-20 seasons:
• Riese Zmolek: The 23-year-old recently finished his junior season at Minnesota State University, where he helped the Mavericks hold the No. 1-ranking in the country for stretches this season as well as a WCHA regular-season title. The standout defenseman has six goals and 27 points in his MSU career.
• Will Zmolek: The 2017 Century grad turns 21 on Thursday. He was a freshman for Bemidji State this season, helping the Beavers to a second-place finish in the WCHA. He had seven assists in 37 games.
• Bennett Zmolek: The 6-foot-2, 180-pounder recently finished his first full season with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders. He’ll play there again next season before heading to Minnesota State in 2021-22 or 2022-23.