With a year of Collegiate hockey under his belt, Zach Stepan is one step closer to the NHL. Stepan played in 35 games for Minnesota State-Mankato posting 9 goals, 12 assists, helping lead the team to a WCHA title and enter the NCAA tournament. The 6’0, 176lbs center scored the lone goal when they were ousted from the tournament in the quarterfinals by UMass-Lowell 3-1. Not only did Stepan contribute to Minnesota State, but also played for Team USA at the 2014 World Juniors.
The Nashville Predators can only hope their 4th round pick (112th overall) in 2012 can turn out like his brother Derek of the New York Rangers. Zach has the right supporting cast to lead him into the direction of being a difference maker in the League.
After a hard day of practice at development camp, The Hockey Writers caught up with Zach Stepan and discussed his time at Minnesota State-Mankato, brother Derek at the Stanley Cup Finals, and much more.
The Hockey Writers: You had a pretty successful year making it into the NCAA tournament with Minnesota State-Mankato, what do you take from it?
Zach Stepan: Just coming from our conference, people looked down on it, but the speed of the game is the same all the way around, so it was fun to be out there and show people what you could do. Winning the WCHA Final Five for the first time was a pretty good experience and showed people we can be contenders every year. So hopefully we are intimidating.
THW: Your cousin Derek made it to the Stanley Cup Finals. What was the family doing?
Stepan: A couple of them went out there. I wasn’t able to make it out there, but I didn’t miss a game all the way through. It was pretty fun to see. The one game I actually was going to go to he didn’t play because he broke his jaw. So we couldn’t really make plans on flights and stuff until we’d know he’d be back in. It was fun to watch him play the rest of the way.
THW: What was it like watching those games?
Stepan: My anxiety was through the roof a little bit. It is one of those things that you’re rooting so hard for your family member. To get that far and to see how close they were in so many of the games it was just ‘Ahhh!’ maybe that one extra bounce here, that one extra bounce there. Overall, it’s a good experience for him and for our family. So it was fun to be able to watch it.
THW: What tips has Derek given you?
Stepan: I think the biggest is to not change the way you play. It has kind of been that way all growing up. You gotta remember what got you where you are. Moving up, he said don’t change the way you play until you’re told to by your highest power. You just have to remember who you are and where you came from.
THW: Jack Eichel is going to be the next big draft prospect coming out of the US in 2015. What was it like playing with him.
Stepan: He is an extremely good hockey player. I was able to play on his line for a couple games and he’s just so smooth. It’s crazy to see how old I am and how young he is. I’m excited for him. I think he’s going to be extremely good and he’s got a great work ethic to do it and he’s got the skill set.
THW: Do you have a pregame routine?
Stepan: I do. It involves a lot of things though. It’s a long list. I do do the same things every game, listen to the same songs on my iPod. I’ll probably switch up next year with some of the new music coming out. It depends on the rinks too. Now that I’ve went through most of the rinks that we’re going to through this year, it’ll be relatively the same, but there will be certain things that will be exactly the same.
Colin Fitts is a Nashville Predators staff writer and is a credentialed media member of the Chicago Wolves. From Nashville, Tennessee, Colin majors in journalism and public relations at Columbia College Chicago. Follow him on Twitter, @FittsTHW. Email: 22fitts [at] gmail [dot] com.