POTSDAM — Zach Tsekos spent all of last season practicing with the Clarkson University men’s hockey team because, as a transfer from Sacred Heart, he was required by NCAA rules to sit out a season before resuming his career with the Golden Knights.
Tsekos, a native of Montreal, supplied 12 goals and 30 assists in 62 games with Sacred Heart and came to Clarkson as an unknown, but quickly impressed coach Casey Jones last year during practices.
“We never heard of him,” Jones said when they received Tsekos’ initial email inquiring about a transfer. “We were fortunate enough that he knew a little bit about Clarkson hockey because his brother (Billy) played at (SUNY) Potsdam. He knew the area.”
Tsekos, now a junior, took advantage of what he could a year ago, learning Clarkson’s systems, the other players, and working out with the team’s strength coach Tad Johnson.
“The competitor in you, you are a Division I hockey player and you want to be out there on Friday and Saturday nights,” Tsekos said. “It was definitely a long year, but I was thankful for the group of guys and the coaching staff. I was able to focus on nailing down systems last year and they came easy this year. I didn’t have to learn anything new.”
Tsekos impressed so much a year ago that Jones joked that he wished he could watch possible recruits practice with the team a few times so he could learn how well they think through the game.
“You get their intellect and hockey IQ and adjustments level, and that’s what we did last year from being on the ice with him in practices,” Jones said. “He had a high, high hockey IQ. We moved him around. He ended up being pre-scout for us on Thursdays. You got the idea he had a sense for the game and we saw his skill level.”
Tsekos has gotten off to a strong start with three goals and four assists in the first 10 games of the season.
“He’s a phenomenal student and he’s added a ton to our culture academically, too,” Jones said. “He’s kind of a complete package. I think we are just scratching the surface with where he’s going to go with his game. Some of his best games have been the ones he didn’t get points in. I’ve used him in every situation.”
For Tsekos the decision to leave Sacred Heart halfway through his career was not an easy one.
“It was especially hard because I had a lot of good relationships with the guys at Sacred Heart,” Tsekos said. “It wasn’t from a lack of friendships there. It was tough leaving guys behind, but sometimes you have to make hard decisions in life, things that are best for myself and my family and stuff. Speaking with (Clarkson’s) coaching staff was kind of the biggest thing for me (after transferring), knowing I can come somewhere and develop, have a chance to win some championships here and have a good opportunity to move on to the next level.”
FACING A MENTOR
Not only did new St. Lawrence University coach Brent Brekke work for Cornell coach Mike Schafer as an assistant, he also played on a Western Michigan team in college that employed Schafer as one of the assistant coaches.
Brekke and Schafer will go head-to-head when St. Lawrence faces Cornell on Saturday night at SUNY Canton.
“He’s been a huge mentor,” Brekke said of Schafer, with whom he worked on Cornell’s staff from 1999-2008. “He’s kind of a father figure to me. I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a good friend and I’m excited to go up against him. He’s a great coach. Longevity in this game is few and far between. He’s proven to run a great program and do things the right way, on and off the ice.”
The last time Clarkson faced Cornell, tonight’s opponent at Cheel Arena, the Golden Knights picked up a 3-2 overtime win in Lake Placid to take home the ECAC Hockey tournament’s title trophy.
Cornell (4-0 overall) is ranked No. 3 in this week’s USCHO.com poll and Clarkson (7-2-1) is No. 7.
“I think in the ECAC it comes down to the last weekend every year, so we know how important the games are right off the bat,” Clarkson defenseman Jordan Schneider said. “Cornell, especially, is a huge rivalry for us. We love playing them. It’s always a hard-fought game. They play a similar style so it will be physical, hard-checking. We know they’ll be coming to beat us, especially after the final game last year. We have to match that intensity and even bring it up a bit further. We’ll be aware of that.”