BEMIDJI -- This weekend’s series at Minnesota State hits close to home for two freshman defensemen on the Bemidji State men’s hockey team.
Kyle Looft and Will Zmolek each have their own unique connection to the Mavericks.
Looft is a Mankato native who was raised in a family of diehard MSU supporters. Zmolek, meanwhile, will go head-to-head with his older brother, Riese, a junior blueliner for Minnesota State.
As if there weren’t enough familial ties for a series featuring the WCHA’s lone Minnesota members.
“I don’t think we’d ever played against each other,” Will Zmolek said, referring to his brother.
The brothers overlapped one season at Rochester Century High School, but had never met as opponents until the third-place game at the Mariucci Classic in Minneapolis last month, a 2-0 Mavericks win.
“We played with each other -- he was a senior in high school, I was a sophomore,” Will said. “But other than that, we’d never played a legit game against each other.”
Don’t expect any extra jitters out of Will this weekend.
“It’s like a normal game, just a little different with him on the opponent’s side,” Will said. “It’ll definitely be a little weird, but it should be fun. I’m looking forward to it.”
There is sure to be loads of support in the stands from the hockey-centric family, which also includes younger brother Bennett, an MSU commit currently playing in the USHL.
The Zmolek brothers have the benefit of growing up with an NHLer for a dad.
Doug Zmolek was a first-round draft pick of the North Stars in 1989 as a high schooler at Rochester John Marshall, and he went on to be an All-American for the Gophers and an eight-year NHL pro.
“It’s just like a normal family, minus the fact that my dad played,” Will Zmolek said. “He helps us with all that stuff. He can help more than maybe others would, but (we’re) just a normal family. Nothing different.”
Looft’s family was just as passionate about the sport, especially its devotion to Minnesota State hockey. The family rarely missed a Mavericks game, and throughout Looft’s childhood, they trekked across the region to see the team play on the road.
“Growing up I was a huge fan,” Looft said. “Our family had season tickets since I was born, so I went to the games when I was six months old and all the way through high school.”
Looft will be playing in front of a hometown crowd for the first time since his days at Mankato West.
“It’s going to be a little different with friends and family coming, but like coach says, it’s just another game,” Looft said. “You’ve got to treat it like that.”
Looft (2a) and Zmolek (6a) have been contributors on a young BSU blue line that’s allowed the second-fewest goals in the WCHA, behind only Minnesota State. The longtime rivals will meet with a shot at first place in the conference at stake.
“”We know it’s huge,” Looft said. “We’re taking it one game at a time, one shift at a time, one period at a time -- trying to get each point that we can.”