The skills that Quinnipiac senior Odeen Tufto have exhibited this year as college hockey’s leading scorer are the culmination of years of hard work. Some of the credit, Tufto says, belongs to countless winter hours spent skating on his family’s backyard rink.
His father, Kris, built a backyard rink at their Chaska home every winter for nearly two decades so his two boys — Odeen and his other brother Andy — could fine-tune their skills.
Like so many other youth hockey players in the state, skating outdoors was a big part of Tufto’s childhood and his development as a player.
“When I look back, it helped me grow so much,” said Tufto, captain of the Bobcats. “I think as a Minnesota kid, there’s nothing better than being out on the pond or the backyard rink on a winter night.”
Building with Anticipation
As the temperature got colder each year, the Tufto boys would wait with anticipation until it was finally time to get the rink set up. Once the time came, the building process began with laying down tarps, setting up boards and flooding the rink with a hose.
Kris enlisted help from his sons, who had to put in a bit of work on the rink before they could enjoy the fruits of their labor.
“Obviously as a kid you didn’t really love to do that, but it was definitely worth it, putting the nails in the boards and laying down the tarp and setting all that stuff up,” Tufto said. “It was kind of all worth it when the ice was ready to go.”
The Tufto rink became a popular one in the neighborhood. Many of Andy’s friends would often come over to skate, meaning Odeen was often playing against older competition. Eventual college and pro players like Shane Gersich, Tyler Nanne, Joey Marooney and more were regulars at the rink.
So, too, was Odeen, who learned a lot from facing players a few years older than him.
“Stuff like that, just getting out on the rink and playing pond hockey and just having fun being a little competitive, it makes you grow your game,” Tufto said. “I think it’s important for kids growing up, no matter how young or whether you’re high school aged to get out there. You’re kind of just in your own world. There’s no rules or anything. You’re just kind of showcasing your skills and just having fun.”
The Tufto’s backyard rink is no more, as the family moved from that house in Chaska. Kris Tufto built the rink each winter all the way through Odeen’s second year of juniors. Even though Odeen wasn’t living at home at that time, he still cherished the few chances to skate on the outdoor rink when he’d come home for holiday breaks.
“Every year, we tried to make it a little bit bigger. We cut down trees, tried to expand it a little bit,” he said. “Gosh, the memories from that place were pretty special.”
Tufto has spent the last four years at Quinnipiac, located in Connecticut. A good amount of his Bobcats teammates are from the East Coast, meaning he’s gotten a feel for what outdoor hockey is like out east.
Simply put, it’s just not the same as it is back home.
“I think you ask any Minnesota kid that plays college and they grew up on a backyard rink or a pond. Out here, I don’t think that’s as popular as much,” Tufto said. “I don’t know what the reason for that is, but something obviously about Minnesota that screams it.”