Jordan Zelenak is in his first season with the St. Cloud Norsemen this year but is no stranger to the NAHL. Zelenak played last season with the El Paso Rhinos, scoring two goals and eight points in 34 games. That experience is paying dividends for Zelenak and the Norsemen this season.
“Anytime you play a lot of games in this league, you understand what it takes to win. And just getting the experience is great. It says a lot about who you are and he’s for sure one of the most well-liked players in that locker room,” compliments St. Cloud Norsemen Assistant Coach Brock Kautz. “He is a good presence for the younger guys and does a great job of bringing them along in the process of junior hockey.”
Zelenak discusses his time in El Paso last season. “I think it was a good experience. Obviously a big culture shock, moving from Minnesota down there to Texas. It taught me to be a lot more physical in my game and bring my big frame into what it needs to be because I kind of played soft back in Minnesota high school hockey and I learned to be a more physical and aggressive player down there.”
Jordan has a stat line of 2-4-6 in 42 games and is incredibly valuable to the Norsemen as a backchecking center and someone who kills a lot of penalties. “He helps us a lot in that sense and does a pretty good job. Special teams is another way to find extra ice and we trust him to put him out there as much as we do,” Kautz explains. “That’s a huge thing as a player. The fact that he can win faceoffs, he’ll block shots, he’s strong and will win battles, and he gets pucks out of the zone… those are all things that we look for and want from guys who kill penalties for us.”
Zelenak is a big body at 6’3”, 180 lbs, something that scouts and coaches at the next level are noticing about his game and always looking for. Kautz agrees that Jordan has been becoming more and more of a physical presence since he has been in St. Cloud. “Yeah for sure. I think he understands everyone kind of has a role on the team. He can get up and down the ice and usually he plays with other guys who can do the same thing. He’s definitely progressed into more of a physical player and has that presence when he’s forechecking or in the corners,” notes Kautz. “He’s not afraid to get into somebody. Obviously he had a fight in Minot and I guess not QUITE a fight against Minot here. He’s definitely a tough kid and we’re very pleased with what he does for our team.” He’s also been dependable; those 42 games played are just two shy of the 44 the Norsemen have competed in and the two games that he missed were due to suspension for the aforementioned fight in MInot.
But Zelenak points out that his transition into a more physical player began before his time in St. Cloud and notes that the division he played in last season shaped who he is now as a player. When asked if there’s a difference in style between the Central Division and the South Division, Zelenak wastes no time to ponder the question. “Absolutely I think there’s a difference. I think the NAHL South is more of a gritty, grindy division where everything is going to be dump and chase, you’re gonna have to go get the puck back in the corners,” explain Zelenak. “Where this division tends to be a little more open, a little more free-flowing game where you can get odd man rushes and you can make plays off the rush. It feels a little more ‘hockey’ to me I guess, as a Minnesota guy.”
Zelenak is a Buffalo, MN native, so while he may have enjoyed his time in El Paso, he certainly appreciates being closer to home. “It’s awesome; it’s one of the best things ever,” Zelenak describes playing back in Minnesota. “My parents get to come to every game and my buddies get to come up and see me. It’s also a little more familiar where I’m at, like ‘It’s snowing again today’ whereas there you might not have seen snow in 18 months. So it’s a pretty good experience to be back close to home.”
Jordan and the Norsemen are back at it this Friday with a home game against the Austin Bruins at 7:00 and tickets can be purchased at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com. They’ll wrap up the home-and-home in Austin on Saturday night at 7:15 and that game can be watched at hockeytv.com.