College men's hockey: Bulldogs' Tufte takes another run at making World Junior team
DULUTH, Minn. — After what happened last summer, no one could have blamed Minnesota Duluth forward Riley Tufte for passing on a second chance at playing in a World Junior Championship.
Tufte, who will be a sophomore in the fall, broke his wrist during an early exhibition game at last year's U.S. National Junior Team evaluation camp. He wound up missing the first four games of his freshmen season with the Bulldogs and was left off the American squad that ultimately won gold.
Tufte is back this week at USA Hockey Arena in Plymouth, Mich., for the World Junior Summer Showcase — a weeklong camp and series of exhibitions being put on by USA Hockey to help set the stage for the 2018 World Junior Championship Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Buffalo, N.Y.
Tufte, who was drafted in the first round in 2016 by the Dallas Stars out of Blaine (Minn.) High School, said putting on a USA sweater this year for the World Juniors would be "really cool" with this year's tournament taking place in the United States and featuring an outdoor game against Canada at the Buffalo Bills' New Era Field (formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium).
"Growing up, watching it on TV and seeing all the fans at the games, just how intense it is, it's one of the biggest tournaments you'll ever play in," Tufte said Thursday, Aug. 3, by phone from Plymouth. "It would really be special to make that team."
Team USA began the week with 44 players split between two squads who each played a game against Finland, Sweden and Canada. On Wednesday, Team USA was cut to 34 players and merged into one squad that picked up a 3-2 victory over Sweden.
Of the four Bulldogs who began the camp — Tufte, sophomore forward Joey Anderson and freshmen defensemen Dylan Samberg of Hermantown and Mikey Anderson — all four remain.
Tufte has a goal and two assists through four games. He evened Wednesday's game with a goal early in the second period after Sweden scored late in the first period to go ahead 1-0.
"I have to play a big role on this team if I'm going to want to make it," said Tufte, whose nine goals and seven assists at UMD all came in the second half of his freshman season. "Strength-wise I'm using my body more, playing the puck along the walls. That's a big step since last year after playing a year of college hockey."
The U.S. will play two more exhibitions this week before wrapping up the camp against Finland at 3 p.m. Friday, Aug. 4, and against Canada at 6 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 5. Both games will be aired on NHL Network.
U.S. head coach Bob Motzko — also the head coach of UMD's NCHC rival St. Cloud State — compared the process of building the National Junior Team to building a house, and this week's camp was the equivalent of constructing the basement.
October, November and December is when things really start to take shape, and Motzko — whose Huskies host the Bulldogs Nov. 3-4 — hopes the Tufte from the 2017 NCAA Frozen Four in Chicago emerges during that time.
"It was the second half of the year when Riley really started to find his game," said Motzko, whose Huskies went 1-4 in five closely contested games against the Bulldogs last season. "That was real evident to me during the national tournament. I thought the semifinal game against Harvard, and really that third period against Denver, he was outstanding.
"I got to see first hand at the Frozen Four what he's able to do at this level."
Anderson brothers, Samberg also standing out
Motzko said there is no greater example of his house building analogy than Joey Anderson. He was sent home early from last year's camp, but after a strong first half with UMD that included three goals and two assists in a pair of games in St. Cloud, Anderson was selected for the team and played a major role in Team USA winning gold at the 2017 World Juniors.
Anderson, who didn't play Wednesday against Sweden, has one goal in three games this week.
"He is one of those players who does everything the right way, every time he steps on the ice," Motzko said. "His work ethic, his commitment to detail on all parts of the game, he can play so many different roles. He's a fantastic player."
Motzko said Joey Anderson's younger brother, Mikey, is "cut from the same cloth" and that he and his fellow incoming UMD freshman defenseman, Samberg, are both in the mix to be in Buffalo over the holidays.
Motzko said Samberg coming straight out of high school was a little rough around the edges early on in camp, but as he has gotten more comfortable, he's made big strides.
Tufte called Samberg one of the best defensemen Wednesday against Sweden, a statement Motzko didn't dispute.
"He was getting our team into the game with the big hits he had and how physical he is," Tufte said of Samberg, who has a goal and an assist in four games. "He's really smart and Mikey is the same way. He's a smart, good player and so defensive. Those two will be really good for us this coming year."