Minor League Sports

Kyle Looft of Cedar Rapids RoughRiders is a Mankato kid headed to Bemidji for college instead

Cedar Rapids RoughRiders defender Kyle Looft in action last season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Cedar Rapids RoughRiders defender Kyle Looft in action last season. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — The Looft family used to be the biggest Minnesota State hockey fans. Used to.

“We’d even travel on the road with them,” Cedar Rapids RoughRiders defenseman Kyle Looft said. “There were four or five families that would take trips in our friend group on my (youth) hockey team.”

These super fans would travel to North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, wherever the Mavericks had their weekend series. “We knew the head coach, he’d let us tour the rink, we’d stay at the same hotel they would, we got to know the team,” Looft said. “Doing that really grew my dream of playing college hockey, that’s for sure.”

Being from Mankato, Minn., that dream, as you’d imagine, always was to play for the hometown school. But in the end, that’s not what happened.

Looft is headed next year to Bemidji State. With teammate and fellow defenseman Will Zmolek, actually.

It’s kind of funny how things work out.

“I loved Bemidji as soon as I stepped on campus,” Looft said. “Their coaching staff is great, their facilities are amazing. I’m an outdoorsy type, and, up there, it’s unbelievable. Right on the lake, tons of hunting, tons of fishing. I loved it. That was my first visit, and, from there, I knew it was going to be hard to change my mind.”

Looft, 20, was named the United States Hockey League’s Defenseman of the Week last week. He is getting back into the swing of things after missing the first month of the season with an upper body injury.

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The RoughRiders play Friday night at Team USA (the United States National Team Development Program’s U-16 team) and will play Saturday night at Muskegon.

“I felt a little rusty in a way, as expected,” Looft said. “After a couple of weeks, especially that first week, after playing a couple of games and getting a full week of practice in, I felt better. Playing more, playing more games, you get your feet back into it.”

This is the second season in Cedar Rapids for Looft, 20, who is one of C.R.’s assistant captains. He had two goals and 10 assists in 58 games last season after being acquired at the end of the preseason in a trade from the Dubuque Fighting Saints.

Dubuque had selected him in the 2017 USHL Draft, Phase II.

“I wouldn’t say it was surprising I got traded,” he said. “I knew that there were tough decisions (for them) to make. I was honestly just fighting for a spot. I got called into the office and they said I’d been traded to Cedar Rapids. I had talked to Cedar Rapids before the draft and knew it was a good place to be. It’s not easy leaving teammates, but I was only with them for a month. I got close with them, but I was excited to go to Cedar Rapids and for the opportunity to play in the USHL, especially for a great organization and coach.

“I’m very lucky, fortunate.”

So are the RoughRiders. Looft has the size at 6-foot-3 and 185 pounds and physicality to be a force on the back end.

There are lots of intangibles there, too.

“I’d say I’m a defensive defenseman,” he said. “My role is to defend well first. If I can get involved in the offense, that’s great, but my ultimate job is to stop them from scoring and do a good job on the penalty kill. I feel like I’m a leader, too. Whether it’s helping guys with their game or helping them off the ice become better people.”

The USHL announced Friday that 21 players from the league will represent the United States on a team that will play next month in the World Junior A Challenge in Bonnyville, Alberta. The international tournament is Dec. 9-16.

Three RoughRiders are on the club: goaltender Blake Pietila, defenseman Mitchell Miller and forward Grant Silianoff. The head coach is Anthony Noreen of Tri-City.

l Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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