Olympic Profile: Ludvig Hoff
North Dakota Sophomore Adds to Family Tradition, Represents Norway at Winter Games
On Sunday, North Dakota sophomore Ludvig Hoff flew to South Korea to participate in the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympic Games, but unlike the other four current NCAA players heading to PyeongChang this week, Hoff — a second generation Olympian — is playing for Team Norway.
The Oslo native has grown up around the tradition of the Olympics, hearing plenty of Olympic stories along the way from his father, Geir, who first won a national championship with Michigan State in 1986, and then played for Norway in three Winter Olympics — 1988 (Calgary), 1992 (Albertville, France), 1994 (Lillehammer, Norway).
Two years after the Games in Lillehammer, Ludvig was born.
"We talked mostly about the one he played in Lillehammer in Norway in '94," said Hoff last week before heading overseas. "He was just telling me about how big everything is because I don't think I really know. Obviously, I know how much it means to people, but I think I have to go and see it for myself, to actually kind of process the whole thing and know that I'm actually there.
"He was just telling me about playing the top players in the world at that time, and having the time of his life there."
For Hoff, the opportunity to play for Norway returns the 21-year old to his roots. Long before playing at Ralph Engelstad Arena for the Fighting Hawks, Hoff honed his craft locally.
"I grew up in Oslo and played hockey for a local team," Hoff said. "I could walk to the rink. It was five minutes away from my house. My buddies and I, my brother and I — we would always walk down there, and they would always open the rink for us no matter what time we wanted to skate. And we were really fortunate that we had that, and that we had people there for us so that we could do that. That helped boost my interest for hockey — to get better and have fun with it."
Eventually, as a teenager, Hoff played his way onto a more competitive junior team, before learning of an opportunity to head to the United States. Ted Suihkonen, a European scout at the time for the USHL's Lincoln Stars, had taken notice of Ludvig, as well as his older brother, Magnus.
"Honestly I didn't really know what USHL was at the time, so I did a little research and saw that it's a really good league over in the States," Hoff said. "We kind of figured that it was worth taking a shot. I went with my brother and dad for the tryout camps, which were in Minneapolis. We both made the Lincoln Stars team and played there together for a year."
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Magnus ultimately returned to play professional hockey in Norway. Ludvig, meanwhile, stayed in Lincoln for another year, where of course the flat Nebraska landscape contrasts starkly with the dramatic fiords in Hoff's native Norway. Despite the new surroundings, Hoff decided to stick around — pursuing college hockey, just as his father had done in the mid-1980's.
"He said that I should go all in with taking the college route, and that's what I wanted to do, too," said Hoff, who scored 16 points as a freshman and has added another seven for North Dakota so far this year.
Of course, while playing in the Olympics is a first-time experience for Hoff, playing with a Norway sweater is far from a new experience. Hoff captained Norway twice at the World Junior Championships. In South Korea this week, he'll reunite with some teammates from those teams — as well as players he met at the Olympic trial camps last year.
And he'll be part of a larger national delegation that won more medals (26) than any other nation at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
"It's a huge honor being able to represent your country, playing hockey," Hoff said. "When I got the letter on my jersey at the World Junior tournament, that was obviously a huge honor. I don't really know how to explain it."
Hoff, who turned 21 in October, laughs when thinking about how he found out that, like his father did on three occasions, he would play for Team Norway at the Olympic Games. And as if it were a decade ago, at home in Oslo, his mother woke him up.
"I was still sleeping, and my phone started ringing a little too early," said Hoff, enjoying the memory. "I didn't really know that the team was posted at that time, but she called, so I picked up. I was kind of mad because it was a day when I could otherwise usually sleep in a little more than usual."
It was, of course, an important wake-up call — more than literally. After hearing the good news from his mother, the preparations for PyeongChang began in earnest. For Hoff, analogous to other current NCAA players, the experience is likely to be a bit surreal — taking classes in Grand Forks, N.D., one week and playing as an Olympian the next.
But in reality, everything about Hoff's journey — from listening to his father's stories, to the walk with his brother to his local rink in Oslo, to his journey to North Dakota — has seemingly led him to this newest opportunity.
For those reasons, even in South Korea this month, it all just might feel like home.