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Defenseman Bennett Zmolek commits to UND

The 6-foot-3, 195-pound right-handed shooting blue liner will have three years of eligibility remaining after transferring from Minnesota State-Mankato.

Bennett Zmolek skates the puck up the ice during a 2021-22 game with Minnesota State-Mankato
Minnesota State athletics

GRAND FORKS — UND has filled a major need on its defensive core.

Bennett Zmolek, who played one season at Minnesota State-Mankato, committed to UND after making a visit Tuesday.

"Obviously, everyone knows about North Dakota and the program it is, the atmosphere it brings and how the community comes to support us," Zmolek said. "I'm very excited to step on the ice for the first time.

"(The visit) was the first time I ever saw the rink and everything. Just seeing it, my jaw hit the floor."

Zmolek, of Rochester, Minn., played 28 games on Minnesota State's 2022 NCAA Frozen Four runner-up team. He scored two goals and seven points, earning all-rookie team honors in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association.


He sat out last season recovering from hip surgery, which was completed Nov. 3.

"Everything is going well," said Zmolek, who started skating again in February. "So far, so good with everything on the ice."

Zmolek will have three years of college eligibility remaining at UND.

He brings a number of attributes UND needs on its back end, which will have eight new members in 2023-24.

Size? Yes. He's 6-foot-3, 195 pounds.

Defensive reliability? Yes. He was a plus-12 at Minnesota State.

"He takes pride in defending and that part of the game first," said his father Doug, who played 467 NHL games with the Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks. "Then, he works toward the offensive side."

Physicality? Yes.


"I want to be hard on the forwards every night," Zmolek said. "I want to make sure whatever they get, they have to work super hard for. "

Right-handed shot? Yes.

Of the five potential incoming freshmen and one previously committed transfer, only one is right-handed.

The Fighting Hawks appear to have six of eight spots solidified on the defense.

Alaska captain Garrett Pyke, a senior, and Zmolek are coming in as transfers.

Four rookies are expected to come — Vegas Golden Knights draft pick Abram Wiebe of the Chilliwack Chiefs, Minnesota Wild draft pick Nate Benoit of the Waterloo Black Hawks, draft-eligible Jake Livanavage of the Chicago Steel and right-handed Tanner Komzak of the Whitecourt Wolverines.

Draft-eligible Andrew Strathmann of the Youngstown Phantoms is a possibility.

The Fighting Hawks will target one more veteran defenseman in the transfer portal, too.


Zmolek's hockey background

Zmolek grew up in a hockey-playing family.

His dad played for the University of Minnesota before embarking on an eight-year NHL career.

His oldest brother, Riese, played four years at Minnesota State from 2017-21. He's now with the Iowa Wild, the top minor-league affiliate of the Minnesota Wild.

The middle brother, Will, just completed a four-year career at Bemidji State. Will ranked No. 3 in all of college hockey in average minutes per game last season with 26:16. He signed an NHL deal with the Philadelphia Flyers last month.

"I would say he's very, very similar to his brothers," Doug said.

Bennett, who will turn 21 next week, played in the USHL for Cedar Rapids and Youngstown before beginning college.

After a solid first season with the Mavericks, last season was difficult because of the surgery.

"It was mentally draining," he said. "Figuring out I had to have surgery and being out of the lineup the whole year after going to the Frozen Four, it was pretty tough. I've been motivated to push and push and not get in that situation again."


Zmolek entered the NCAA transfer portal April 4 after Mavericks head coach Mike Hastings left for Wisconsin.

"I got contacted by a couple other teams," Zmolek said. "But with North Dakota, it's hard to pass up on them with all the great players they've produced."

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at bschlossman@gfherald.com.
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