Zalewski Takes Off
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Steve Zalewski was part of George Roll's first big class at Clarkson, a highly-touted forward with a great combination of strength and skill.
But like some of his classmates, it has not been a smooth road through the first two seasons. The upstate New York native, and a one-time member of the U.S. National Program, had just 21 goals playing two full seasons with Clarkson. Good numbers, but not special.
His linemate, Shawn Weller, faced similar issues, being named to the U.S. World Junior team as a freshman but scoring only three goals for Clarkson. His numbers jumped to 14 last year, but with more growth expected.
This year, at least so far, these guys — along with other forwards like sophomore Shea Guthrie and new freshman linemate Matt Beca — are leading the charge. Out of the gate, Zalewski already has eight goals this season. Weller has four goals, and both players are a plus-eight.
"His confidence level is high," said Roll. "He's strong on the puck, doesn't get beat down low, is very good on both ends. And Shawn weller with Beca, it's been a very good combination. It's been as dominant a line as I've seen in a while here."
Said Zalewski, "I worked hard conditioning wise, that's a big thing. I got faster in the offseason. The big thing with the new rules (emphasis) is to take advantage of speed if you have to. Other than that, we're just clicking real well and I'm putting away my chances."
Thing is, the line wasn't going to be a line. Guthrie was slated to play with Zalewski and Weller, but he sat the first game for team reasons. The skilled, small Beca fit in immediately, and Roll ran with it.
"Nothing against Shea, but Matt seems to find those guys at the right time," Roll said. "Shea's a different type of player to play with. (The chemistry was) there from the start."
Said Zalewski, "All of us are pretty well-rounded players."
Team-wise, the difference has been winning on the road, something Clarkson was dreadful at last year. This year, the Knights already have three big road wins, and a nice tie at Massachusetts. But explaining why there is that difference is more difficult.
"Sometimes as a team we don't prepare ourselves mentally on the road," Zalewski said. "We're not as ready to play as we should be.
"We were definitely aware of that. That first road weekend was big (winning at Providence, tie vs. UMass). That got our confidence going."
Zalewski chose Clarkson over the likes of St. Lawrence and Northeastern. Growing up, he knew of Clarkson as a big program, but also had heard about its slip. But he was excited about Clarkson again when he met the new coaching staff.
"The new coaching staff was really devoted to getting our team back to where it was in the past," Zalewski said.
His pedigree was enough to get him drafted in the fifth round of the 2004 NHL Draft by San Jose. But he's not going anywhere yet.
"It's nice to know (you're drafted)," Zalewski said. "It gives you a little more stability, it gives you more of an idea of where you'll go. But it's not a huge deal. I see a lot of guys coming out as free agents."
Coming off a three-goal weekend in Clarkson's two-game road ECAC sweep at Dartmouth and Harvard, Zalewski's confidence is peaking. The thoughts of an NCAA bid are very much on everyone's mind — something Clarkson used to do regularly but hasn't done since 1999. But he is also trying to keep himself and everyone in check.
"We had a big weekend, but every weekend is big," he said. "There's tough games ahead. We have to put it behind us.
"It's only eight games this year, but I think we are definitely capable of playing real well. We have to do that consistently."