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Zach Stepan’s biggest season starts in Music City

Sarah Fuqua - http://www.flickr.com/photos/sapah-fu/9260981449/

Jul 21, 2013


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Each summer, every NHL team holds a development camp for prospects shortly after the Draft. All of the new draft selections plus the three prior years are invited to attend, along with a few other undrafted or otherwise unattached players. This season, Nashville’s camp began with physicals on the night of Monday, July 7, and ran through the week, ending with a scrimmage on Saturday, July 13.

“The first few days, you get up, you go to the track and you get a good conditioning run underneath you to keep your legs underneath you and then we come back and we skate,” Predators prospect Zach Stepan said. “We get a little rest then eat some lunch and go work out. We sit through some pretty amazing seminars that kind of teach you what it’s like to be a pro and how to go about your business as a pro. After the first two days, you get a little bit of a recovery day where you do some yoga and go do some community service and give back to the community. Then we go back to the track, skate and workout days. We’re up at six and we’re done at six. It’s a long day.”

Last season, when Stepan arrived at Predators development camp, his injuries limited his activity. He was not able to skate with his fellow prospects or participate in full workouts.

This season, however, the fully-healed Stepan was able to participate in full workouts.

“It’s way better than last year when I didn’t get to skate,” Stepan said.

Stepan was drafted by the Predators in the fourth round of the 2012 Draft, 112th overall, out of Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota. At the time, he described himself as a hard-working, consistent player with good vision and a scoring touch. Instead of making an immediate leap to the NCAA ranks after being drafted, Stepan spent last season improving his game with the Waterloo Black Hawks of the USHL. Unlike the Canadian Major Junior system, the USHL is classified as “amateur hockey” by the NCAA. Thus, players who play in the USHL are eligible to play in the NCAA.

In 56 games with Waterloo, Stepan racked up 78 points (32 G – 46 A), finishing third in the league in scoring.

“It was the best experience I could have asked for,” Stepan said. “I didn’t feel like I was ready to jump into the college route yet, so I just decided that I should probably get a year of juniors in and get bigger and stronger. It ended up better than I could have even imagined.”

Entering the season, Stepan had been committed to attend and play for Ohio State at the beginning of the 2013-14 season. However, after this season, Ohio State head coach Mark Osiecki was fired for what the university dubbed “a difference of opinion over the management of the program that could not be resolved”. After Osiecki’s firing, the Hastings, Minnesota, native rescinded his commitment and opted to attend Minnesota State University, Mankato, instead.

“I was going so far away from home because I really respected Coach Osiecki,” Stepan said. “Once he left, it was more of a family deal. It was nothing against Ohio State – they’re a great program. It was just a big family deal for me to stay close to home and so once that all happened, it was more me and my mom making a different decision to keep me close to home. I have nothing against Ohio State. They turned around last year and they’re going to keep climbing the ladder.”

Stepan will be joining a Minnesota State program that reached the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in ten years and only the second time since the program made the leap to Division I in 1996. Under first year head coach Mike Hastings, the Mavericks finished with a record of 24-14-3, which was the school’s first winning season in four years. When Zach Stepan steps onto campus in the fall, he will be joining a program that is definitely trending upwards.

“They really turned it around last year,” Stepan said. “It was really fun to watch them play. I have a couple of friends who played there last year, so it was a lot of fun to see how well they did. I talked to a couple of them and they said that they improved because they had skill, but they were also so close with each other. It’s fun to go into such a tight knit group and it will be exciting to see how we do this year and to try and do it better than they did it last year.”

While development camp is over, Stepan does not get much of a summer break. Before he attends freshman orientation in the middle of August, he will report to Lake Placid, New York, on August 3 for a seven-day evaluation camp for the United States National Junior Team.

With his freshman year of college, the NCAA and World Juniors potentially looming, Stepan hopes that his week in Nashville will springboard him into what is perhaps the biggest year of his young life.

Photo: Sarah Fuqua