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Riese Zmolek hopes he and the Iowa Heartlanders see improvement in season 2
Former Cedar Rapids RoughRiders defenseman returns for Heartlanders, who open ECHL season Friday night at home against Idaho
CORALVILLE — The second time around should be easier. At least you’d think.
The Iowa Heartlanders begin their second ECHL season Friday night at Xtream Arena against the Idaho Steelheads. The teams also play Saturday night.
The Heartlanders officially announced their 2022-23 roster Thursday: 21 active players, two on the reserve list (including forward Yuki Miura, a mainstay last season) and two on injured reserve (including goaltender Corbin Kaczperski, who was good in 21 games last season).
Goalie Hunter Jones (under contract with the Minnesota Wild) and forwards Zach White, Cole Stallard and Jake Smith played most or all of last season here. So did defenseman Riese Zmolek, the former Cedar Rapids RoughRider who will be looked upon for his leadership and gritty defensive play.
“I think we’ve got some good team speed,” Zmolek said. “The pace already is a lot better than it was last year, which is huge ... Then we’ve got some big bodies, too. I think we should be pretty solid all around.
“I think we’ve got a good group.”
Zmolek played from 2015 to 2017 in Cedar Rapids, then four years at Minnesota State. He signed an AHL contract last summer with the Iowa Wild, for whom he played 10 games.
The majority of his time was spent back in the corridor. He had four goals and 15 assists in 45 games for the Heartlanders and had a plus-minus rating of plus-five, which was pretty good for a team that finished in last place in the ECHL’s Central Division.
He also accumulated just a smidge under 100 penalty minutes, which goes back to the sandpaper qualities of his game. Zmolek said he learned a lot about the grind of the pro game, crediting Gerry Fleming (last year’s head coach) and Derek Damon (last year’s assistant coach and this year’s head coach) with guiding him through it.
It was an adjustment, for sure, though not necessarily an overwhelming one.
“I wouldn’t say huge,” he said. “It’s just taking care of yourself. We only play 35 to 40 games in college, and that’s half a season here. So it’s just trying to withstand that part of it. Obviously I learned quite a bit last year from Gerry and Dames about just taking care of my body, doing the little things, while also being able to get better and working at your craft at the same time.”
Zmolek took part in the Iowa Wild’s tryout camp prior to Heartlanders camp opening last week. He said it was a good experience, always good to try and make an impression.
Surely he’ll be needed in Des Moines at some point again this winter.
Until then, he’s eager to get things going with the Heartlanders. He feels it’s an improved team from a year ago, and he feels he’s an improved player from a year ago.
“Just the way the game is trending in hockey, everyone has got to chip in on the offensive side of things,” he said. “I’ve always kind of been a defensive, stay-at-home type of player, with a bit of an edge. So (I need to) just have a little bit more offensive of a game. Confidence, second year in the league hopefully will help me out as well. But also not losing my edge, the way I play that way.”
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