GRAND FORKS -- In his last game at the 2018 Winter Olympics, University of North Dakota sophomore Ludvig Hoff played against former NHL superstars Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk of Russia.
Datsyuk even came over and talked to Hoff and another Norwegian player after the quarterfinal game.
“Obviously, he’s been so good for so many years,” Hoff said. “You could see the small things he was so good at -- how good his hands are. It was just fun to play against him and see how good you have to be to be one of the top guys in the world.”
Hoff’s role for Norway increased each game. He helped the Norwegians get their first Olympic hockey victory since his father, Geir, was on the team in 1994. And he’s hoping to take some budding confidence back to college hockey, where the stretch run has arrived.
Hoff and UND will play a key two-game series against No. 1-ranked St. Cloud State University to close the regular season this weekend at 7:37 p.m. Friday, March 2, and 7:07 p.m. Saturday, March 3, in Ralph Engelstad Arena.
With the Fighting Hawks (14-11-9) sitting in the fourth and final position for home-ice advantage in the first round of the National Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs, and at No. 14 in the Pairwise Rankings -- on the bubble for the NCAA tournament -- the St. Cloud State series could wind up determining whether UND gets home ice and an NCAA bid for the 16th straight season.
“It’s exciting to play playoff hockey,” Hoff said. “I think it’s fun. The games really matter. People really have to step up and be more accountable to each other. It’s almost a different style than the rest of the season. I love the whole playoff atmosphere and everything that comes with it.”
A breakthrough by Hoff would be welcome for a UND team, which ranks sixth in the NCHC in offense.
Hoff has two goals and seven points in 23 games this season. He has a history of being able to produce more offensively, though. Hoff averaged a point per game in the United States Hockey League.
“I think just being (at the Olympics) and having that experience and getting to play can help with confidence,” Hoff said. “Hopefully, I can use that going forward and help our team.”
Hoff returned to action last weekend at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, after a crazy, 20-hour day of travel.
After losing in the quarterfinals to Datsyuk, Kovalchuk and eventual gold-medalist Russia, Hoff booked his trip home.
It started with a three-hour train ride from the Olympic Village to the airport in Seoul, South Korea. From there, Hoff took a 13-hour flight from Seoul to Chicago. After a layover, he caught a flight from Chicago to Cincinnati. Then, he hailed a cab for the last hour drive to Oxford, Ohio.
Hoff arrived at the team hotel at about 1:30 a.m. Friday, Feb. 23.
He tried to sneak into his hotel room without waking up road roommate Collin Adams, but it didn’t work.
“He woke up, gave me a big hug and went straight back to bed,” Hoff said.
With centerman Rhett Gardner unable to play, Hoff jumped right back into action and suited up for both games against Miami.
“I thought it was fun playing with the boys,” Hoff said. “I was obviously tired both physically and mentally because of a lack of sleep and everything. I was running on adrenaline. After the Saturday game, I slept for a good 13 or 14 hours. I slept all of Sunday. My body was telling me that I needed some rest.”
Hoff said he’s feeling much better this week.
“I’m a good sleeper, and I feel more rested,” Hoff said. “I should be 100 percent.”
He has the Olympic experience and a week of rest under his belt. Now, he hopes that can benefit his game for the rest of the season.
“It was a great experience,” Hoff said. “I went there without too much for expectations, to be honest. It was fun to get a chance to play and to do well and play with good players. Getting to experience the whole thing was really fun and, obviously, something I’ll remember for a long time.”