Typically there’s two main adjustments every athlete must make from high school to college. The first is adjusting to the speed and physicality of the game. The second is going from a standout upperclassman to a freshman paying your dues to earn a role, any role, on a team.
For Blaine High School graduate and University of Minnesota Duluth hockey player Riley Tufte, both adjustments have progressed nicely during his freshman season.
The 6-foot-5 forward scored his biggest goal of the season March 18 against North Dakota in the title game of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference Frozen Faceoff. Tufte’s goal gave UMD a 2-1 lead, and the Bulldogs went on to win 4-3.
“That was awesome, especially in a big game like that,” Tufte said. “It’s always nice to score, but in a game like that it means so much. It was a great feeling.”
Tufte had no problems scoring for the Blaine hockey team as a senior last season. His 49 goals and 36 assists earned him the Minnesota Mr. Hockey award.
Expectations were understandably high for Tufte entering his freshman season. He was taken in the first round of June’s NHL Draft when the Dallas Stars picked him 25th overall.
“At the start of the season it was tough,” Tufte said. “Coming in from high school, making that adjustment and getting the feel of how college hockey was played. The biggest thing was getting used to the speed and you have to do a lot of little things when you’re playing college hockey. I had to learn all that and it’s been fun seeing my success I’ve been having here lately.”
Tufte has scored eight goals and added five assists this season for a UMD team that is currently 25-6-7 and in the NCAA Tournament. He has had two two-goal performances, Jan. 20 at UND and March 10 against Miami (Ohio) in a 5-4 overtime win the NCHC quarterfinal playoff series.
His second goal of that game tied it up with 7:41 to go in the third period to force overtime.
“It’s been awesome,” Tufte said. “Obviously there’s been some ups and downs through our season and my season. Overall, it’s been really good. The second half of the season we’ve become more of a team and have come together and are really playing Bulldog hockey right now.”
Tufte points to his time with the Blaine hockey program as a big helping hand. He credits his teammates and coaches for helping him succeed in high school and prepare him for the college level. As he’s grown throughout his freshman year, so too has his production on the ice.
His performances in the postseason have been key for the Bulldogs, who are ranked No. 2 in the NCAA bracket.
UMD is in the West Regional, which takes place March 24-25 in Fargo. The Bulldogs play Ohio State at 5:30 p.m. Friday on ESPNU. Also in the regional is UND and Boston University.
It’ll be the biggest stage to date for Tufte. But as he’s shown, the longer this season has gone, the better he gets.
“I knew it was going to be tough at the start,” Tufte said. “Obviously as a freshman you have a lot of older guys in front of you. But you want to make the most impact that you can. I’ve been doing everything I can to play a big role on this team and help my team win.”