Luke Loheit is going out as a champion. Well, going out of his home state as one. The Minnetonka, Minnesota native ended his high school hockey career in the best way possible, capturing the coveted Minnesota High School State Tournament championship in March.
“I think the final attendance was around 20,000 or so,” Loheit said of the championship game. “Every time it comes around every year the whole state kind of stops and focuses on that. It’s a big deal and it’s pretty special to be a part of. I think everyone who gets to play in it is pretty thankful because it’s rare, you go out of state and you don’t see anything like that.”
Loheit’s team, the Minnetonka Skippers, earned their way to the State Tournament with a double-overtime win over Holy Family in the section finals. The event is hosted at Xcel Energy Centre, the home of the Minnesota Wild, each year. As Loheit said, the event is a big deal and draws massive crowds for each and every game as the state rallies behind their respective teams.
Heading into the tournament as the number one seed, Loheit’s Skippers won 6-2 over Hill Murray and 6-3 over Centennial to punch their ticket to the State Championship against Duluth East. In front of a throng of fans, Loheit recorded an assist to help Minnetonka capture the schools first ever State Championship with a 5-2 win.
“It’s a once in a lifetime thing. When you’re in the moment you don’t really realize how big it is,” Loheit recalled. “My teammates and I grew up wanting to play in that game. It’s not only special for the group of guys but the community and the alumni. It’s created a different culture to the community around here because it’s so tight.”
Loheit recorded a goal and two assists in the three games at the tournament, adding on to his regular season totals of 12 goals and 18 assists in 24 games with the Skippers. On top of that, he a was also one of the captains of the team which is something he takes great pride in.
“I think my leadership is one of my biggest strengths,” he claimed. “I always tried to have that leadership and that voice on every team I’ve been on. I wore the ‘C’ for the first time in my bantam year and that was really important to me. It’s not only special to have for me, but to have for the group of guys. I really felt I grew as a leader this year and I’ll carry that not only in my hockey career but for the rest of my life.”
With his list of accomplishments, it may not be surprising to see Loheit’s name appear on NHL Central Scouting as a player to watch for the 2018 NHL Entry Draft in Dallas, Texas next month. The 6’1’’ 185-pound forward was listed at 152nd amongst North American skaters.
While he still has a few weeks of high school left, Loheit says now that hockey season is over, it’s difficult to tune out the thoughts of draft day.
“I think during the season it was a little easier for me to block it out because I had things scheduled every day,” Loheit admitted. “It pops into my mind every once in a while but I’m really just focused on getting better everyday and getting ready for next season.”
Barely a week after the biggest game of his life, Loheit and his father came to Penticton to see the Vees organization up close. The timing of his trip allowed him to see the Vees opening game against the Trail Smoke Eaters in the second round, a scene that firmly made up Loheit’s mind.
“I knew my decision after the first day I was there,” Loheit said. “The culture the team brought to not only the ice but also around the community. The whole city was supporting the team and that was the coolest thing I noticed while I was there. It’s a hockey town.”
With high school nearly finished, Loheit said moving away from home for the first time is something he feels ready for. His plans for the summer mostly revolve around staying at home to spend time with his family and friends before heading north of the border.
Loheit will join a long list of Minnesota-born players to suit up for the Vees, including Nicky Leivermann and Ryan Sandelin from the 2017-18 season.
“Seeing all the Minnesota guys there just fuels me to follow in their footsteps,” Loheit admitted. “I think it also shows just how great of an organization it is. It motivates me to get up there and represent my state and work even harder.”
Loheit has already secured a scholarship to the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where he will play for Sandelin’s father, Scott. A self-proclaimed power forward, Loheit believes his competitiveness and physicality are his best traits as a hockey player, though he says his play making abilities are nothing to write off either.
Being a physical player, Loheit knows the wear and tear of a season that occurs as the games pile up. Having never played as many games as the BCHL schedule has before, Loheit knows how important this summer is in his preparation for the 2018-19 season.
“After the season ended I immediately started training,” Loheit said. “It will be fun though, I’m excited to play more games. There’s always room for more hockey so I’m looking forward to seeing how my body and my mental state reacts to playing 60-plus games in a season.”
His passion for the game rivals that of the fans in Penticton, ensuring he’ll have no problems fitting in to his new home.