MANKATO, Minn. — Riese Zmolek and Ian Scheid met for the first time in the fall of 2014.

That's when Zmolek shuttled over to Austin from Rochester to play a handful of games with the Austin Bruins before the start of his senior hockey season at Rochester Century High School.

The two played in 25 games together that season — Zmolek playing four prior to the high school season, then joining Austin for its run to the North American Hockey League's championship series, the Robertson Cup.

And though the two weren't on the ice together often during games, they began to develop a bond.

"He has a really high hockey IQ," Zmolek said of Scheid, a Coon Rapids native who played for Blaine High School from 2010-14. "He's a mobile defenseman, too. That helps him and the team a lot. 'Scheider' is a quieter guy, but once you get to know him he opens up. He's a great teammate and friend, a great guy to hang out with."

The two went their separate ways after the Bruins' season ended in May 2015 and ended up playing against one another the following season. Zmolek played from 2015-17 for Cedar Rapids of the USHL, and Scheid split the 2015-16 season between Fargo and Sioux City in the USHL.

In the fall of 2017, the talented defensemen found themselves in the same locker room again, battling for spots in the lineup on a strong Minnesota State University, Mankato, team.

Their mutual respect for another's game was renewed instantly.

Riese Zmolek
Riese Zmolek

"Riese has always been great with his stick and body positioning," Scheid, who has 10 assists this season, said. "He makes it really hard for other players to get around him. He moves pretty good on the blue line, too. He can drop his shoulder and get his shot through traffic."

'A perfect match'

Though they play different styles — Scheid has 22 goals and 85 points in 136 career games at MSU; Zmolek has 19 points in 88 career games and leads the Mavericks in blocked shots this season with 22 — the MSU coaching staff struck gold when it paired the two of them together early this season.

Scheid, a senior, and Zmolek, a junior, have played on the same pairing for 15 of MSU’s 16 games, and have helped the Mavericks go 14-1-1 so far. They took the No. 1 ranking in college hockey into this weekend's series at Northern Michigan, MSU's final two games before a holiday break.

Ian Scheid
Ian Scheid

"I think we know each other's tendencies and what we like to do as players," Scheid said. "We work well together, we like to share the puck and we have that chemistry.

"We're just a perfect match."

That perfect match rarely gets scored on. Scheid has a plus-10 plus/minus rating this season, while Zmolek, who has one goal and two assists this season, is a plus-6. Zmolek said he and Scheid think a lot alike and have an unspoken understanding of what each other intend to do on the ice.

"We both realize that (success) starts on the back end, with breaking out of our zone, getting the puck up the ice to our forwards," Zmolek said. "... sometimes you just can't explain it, the chemistry you have right away with (a teammate), and we've continued to improve on that."

Family ties

On a piece of hockey tape that's looped around Scheid's stick, written in marker, are a number and a word: "23" and "Slip."

It's a reminder to Scheid that his father, Jim, is always there with him, though Jim died in 2015, after a long battle with cancer, three days before his 58th birthday.

"Slip" was Jim Scheid's nickname and 23 is the number he wore when he played college hockey at the University of Wisconsin from 1976-80.

"All of the big stars at Wisconsin, the guys who went on to play in the NHL, couldn't catch him in practice," Randy Wilcox, Jim Scheid's high school teammate at Rochester John Marshall, said in 2015. "The puck would go into the corner and he'd always come out with it, so they called him 'Slippery,' which became 'Slip' over time."

Jim Scheid's legacy in Rochester is another bonding point for Ian Scheid and Zmolek. Jim Scheid was a three-sport star at John Marshall, lettering in football, hockey and baseball, and leading the Rockets to the Region 1 hockey championship game as a senior in 1976, a year before JM won its first and only state championship.

Zmolek's dad, Doug, also starred at John Marshall, a decade after Jim Scheid. Doug Zmolek played for JM from 1985-89, helping the Rockets to two state tournaments, including a runner-up finish in 1989. He was drafted No. 7 overall by the Minnesota North Stars in 1989, then played three years at the University of Minnesota, followed by eight seasons and 467 games with four different NHL teams.

"We'll talk about it sometimes, how our dads knew each other," said Ian Scheid, whose grandparents John and Helen Scheid still reside in Rochester. "I get back to Rochester once in awhile and we talk about JM and those days our dads played there."

Chasing history

For now, Ian Scheid and Riese Zmolek are living in the moment.

MSU has eight seniors and seven juniors on its roster, several of whom had the option to sign professional contracts last spring, but chose to return to Mankato.

The Mavericks are laser-focused on making some program history.

They want to win another WCHA championship.

They want to win an NCAA Tournament game for the first time in MSU's Division I era.

And they want to bring a national championship to Minnesota for a third consecutive season, after watching Minnesota Duluth win it the past two years.

"I think we all knew what type of group we had and the potential we had coming into the season," Zmolek said, "but I don't know if any of us thought we'd only have one loss so far. We have balanced scoring from top to bottom. There's no selfishness, everyone plays for each other, and it shows us how special we can be."

Scheid said, as a senior, it was motivating to watch a handful of his teammates — including potential Hobey Baker Award candidate Marc Michaelis — return to make a run at a title.

"It's special," Scheid said. "These guys are my classmates, we live together, we're best friends. We hang out every day and it's fun to go to the rink and get to work together. It's been really rewarding."