WCHA Semifinals Preview: Bemidji State's Looft ready for 'different' return home to Mankato
Kyle Looft has played five games in his hometown during his college career. Friday will have a different feel for the Mankato native turned Bemidji State defenseman, as he'll try to help the Beavers win the WCHA playoff championship on a familiar ice sheet.
This coming home stuff is old-hat for Kyle Looft.
The Mankato native has played four games over the past two seasons for Bemidji State University at the Mayo Clinic Health System Event Center, the arena where he often led the Mankato West Scarlets in their annual battles against intra-city rival Mankato East from 2013-17.
He’s fully comfortable in those familiar surroundings.
Yet things will feel a bit different this week for the Beavers’ 6-foot-3, 205-pound sophomore defenseman.
“It’s definitely different,” Looft said this week. “It’s playoff hockey, but you try to treat every game the same way.”
That will be the priority for Looft and Bemidji State this week when they travel to Mankato for the WCHA playoffs final four. The No. 13-ranked and No. 4-seeded Beavers (15-8-3) will face No. 17-ranked and No. 2-seeded Lake Superior State at 7:37 p.m. Friday in a WCHA semifinal game. The winner of that game will play again at 7:07 p.m. Saturday in the WCHA playoffs championship game, against either Minnesota State or Northern Michigan.
But first things first. Friday’s semifinal game carries massive postseason implications for both Bemidji State and Lake Superior State. Both teams are squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. Two wins this weekend would guarantee Bemidji State a spot in the national tournament. One win will help their chances significantly. But the same goes for the Lakers (17-6-3).
“Obviously we have big goals. We want to win a national championship,” Looft said. “Part of that is getting to the tournament. … The first game this weekend is a huge game for us. We don’t want to leave (our tournament fate) up to the selection committee. We feel if we can get the job done on Friday, it helps us a ton, not leaving things up in the air.”
Looft, along with classmate Will Zmolek, have been arguably the Beavers’ top two defensive defensemen this season. They’ve combined for just eight points, but have been essential in keeping opponents off the scoreboard. Looft hopes that trend continues this weekend in his hometown.
“Going home, it’s always fun,” said Looft, who had 116 points in his four-season high school career at Mankato West. “I’ve played multiple times there now, so I’m a little more used to it than the first time, but it definitely gets you a little more excited — not that we need more excitement now with playoff hockey, because we know what’s on the line.
“Playoff hockey is a different animal. We’re excited for this opportunity and looking forward to it.”
The Beavers will take the ice with a world of confidence, while knowing a quality opponent is lining up across from them. Bemidji State is 6-1-0 in its past seven games and has outscored its opponents 21-11 in that span.
That offensive average of 3.0 goals per game is the exact number the Beavers’ coaches want to hit each night out. If they score three times, they feel good about their chances of winning, particularly with Third Team All-WCHA goalie Zach Driscoll in the net.
“We’ve just played hard-nosed hockey, we’ve been really focused and haven’t given up many goals in the past few games,” Looft said. “Coach always talks about being the first to three goals and I feel like we’ve done a good job of that and we’ve done a good job of winning those 1-0, 2-1 games.
“We’ve stuck with our plan and played hard-nosed hockey.”