CANTON — When he was an assistant coach at Clarkson last year new St. Lawrence University men’s hockey coach Brent Brekke spent most of his time working with the forwards.
He is in charge of an entire team now, but offense is still important to Brekke and one of the players he hopes will lead the Saints to increased scoring production this year is sophomore Zach Risteau.
Risteau, a native of Lakeville, Minn., led St. Lawrence freshmen in scoring last year and ranked second on the team overall with seven goals and 11 assists. He also ranked eighth among ECAC Hockey freshmen in scoring a year ago with six goals and seven assists in 19 conference games.
“You don’t know the players as much until you work with them daily,” Brekke said. “I noticed him a little bit in flashes last year. He’s highly skilled and he thinks the game at a very high level. His natural ability to slow the game down and make plays is something he’s very good at. We want him to make those plays with a little more pace at times. I think he’s going to have a great year and that’s the expectation we have and he knows that and is excited for that challenge.”
The Saints struggled to score goals last year, averaging two-per game while enduring a 6-29-2 overall record and a 3-17-2 mark in conference play.
“The energy level has been really good,” said Brekke of the preseason practices. “We have to continue to work on our execution, that’s something we’ve talked a lot about. At times we need to think the game quicker and slow our feet down a little bit to think that way. Our overall intensity every single practice and our habit to show up and compete at a high level has been really good.”
Risteau knows that Brekke focuses a lot on offense and the two appear to be a good match.
“I think the transition has been great, what (the new staff’s) plan is for our season,” Risteau said. “I hope we can have a good start to (this weekend) at Mercyhurst and get the ball rolling. I know (Brekke) is a big offensive guy and that’s a thing our team struggled with last year, putting up points. With all the work we do in practice on that, I think it will transition into our games this coming season.”
Risteau, who is 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, scored 50 points in 53 games in the 2016-17 junior hockey season with the BCHL’s Merritt Centennials.
“He has a real good stick,” Brekke said. “He can make plays in tight areas and can protect the puck well. For a small guy, he uses his body well. He thinks the game situation. He understands where his opportunities are. He sets defenders up where he wants them. There’s a lot of pieces to his game that give him the opportunity to be a pretty high-end player.”
Last year was a tough one for all the Saints, but for Risteau there was one huge highlight to the season.
He grew up in a suburb of Minneapolis so SLU’s 4-3 overtime upset of Minnesota in Mariucci Arena on Nov. 16 last year was a thrill for Risteau.
“A dream come true,” Risteau said. “I grew up watching the Gophers play in that rink when I was a kid. Just to play there myself in a college game was very memorable. The fact that we came out with a win, too, was even better. We were definitely an underdog going into that game. I think we set that tone that first game we won. We knew if we wanted to, we could be a good team.”
The first year was rough, but Risteau has no regrets that he chose to come to SLU.
“When I visited here, I loved the campus, I loved the atmosphere,” Risteau said. “I loved the hockey and the history behind it. I’m very excited for our (renovated) rink to be in. The guys were great guys. It was a pretty easy decision for me. I talked to a few schools, but St. Lawrence was the only school I actually toured.”