The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports

January 17, 2014

Well-traveled Stepan making impact with Mavs

MANKATO — Zach Stepan wanted to play hockey with his Minnesota State teammates as soon as he possibly could.

Even if it meant traveling almost 6,500 miles on a path best traced over an Indiana Jones movie map, dealing with crying babies on the planes and getting little to no sleep for more than a day, he was going to get on the ice.

Copenhagen to Seattle to Reykjavik to Fairbanks.

Not exactly a hop, skip and a jump.

“That was just a long, grueling trip,” said Stepan, who had been playing for Team USA in the World Junior Championships in Sweden before rejoining the Mavericks. “It was probably over 24 hours either on a plane or in an airport. It was pretty hard on the body, but I didn't really feel it until the Sunday after the game, which was nice.”

The World Junior tournament was in Malmo, Sweden, which is located an the southern tip of that country, just across a narrow strait from Denmark.

After crossing 10 time zones to get from there to Alaska, Stepan's body clock had the 7 p.m. faceoff at about 5 a.m.

“My time periods were just so messed up,” he said. “I think the adrenaline got me through that game, but it hit me hard on the bus trip to Anchorge the next day.”

The Mavericks' top-scoring freshman had a goal in that game — a 6-4 MSU victory — was plus-2 and led all players with six shots on goal.

“He's a hockey player,” Mavericks coach Mike Hastings said. “He does that and comes back and makes an impact on the team right way. … He's a mentally tough kid.”

A versatile forward, Stepan is third on the team with six goals. The preseason pick as the WCHA's top rookie and the conference's lone representative at the World Juniors, he ranks seventh in scoring among league rookies.

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