St. Cloud Norsemen defenseman Duke Kiffin celebrated his birthday on Tuesday, but the Minnetonka, MN native wasn’t able to live it up too much, as he and his teammates prepare for the Minot Minotauros this weekend at the MAC.
Kiffin is playing in his second season with the Norsemen and he’s among a nice pipeline of defensemen from Minnetonka who go on to play in St. Cloud, but the first to play for the Norsemen. Typically when you hear of a blueliner from Minnetonka playing for St. Cloud, it’s for SCSU, where the likes of Andrew Prochno, Jimmy Schuldt and Josh Luedtke went from being Skippers to Huskies.
Luedtke played with Kiffin at Minnetonka when Josh was a senior and Duke was a sophomore. And despite the fact they haven’t played together since four seasons ago, Luedtke remembers Kiffin’s game very fondly. “Duke is a great guy, he’s a very hard worker and always led by example. I loved playing with him in Minnetonka because of his high hockey IQ” praises Luedtke. “He was younger than me so he was always eager to learn and always wanted to improve in any way he could. He’s a really good teammate and someone who’s easy to get along with too.”
Luedtke was a captain for the Minnetonka High School Skippers and two years later that “C” would be passed down to Kiffin. Duke played three seasons for the Skippers and put up 16 points in the regular season both his junior and senior seasons, ending his high school career with a stat line of 6-28-34 in 69 games played. Duke also played in the Elite League for Team Twin Cities Orthopedics both his junior and senior year before his rookie campaign with the Norsemen last season.
St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen is impressed with how the pace of the NAHL came to Kiffin quicker than it does to most. “Kiff has been a real big shot in the arm for us since he came in last year. Obviously his legs are fabulous,” compliments Millen. “It takes a little time to get junior hockey under your belt and thrive but I think he did a pretty good job of learning the ropes and has done a really good job for us.”
Luedtke and Millen’s words go right along with Duke’s answer when asked what type of player he is and why he finds success on the ice; he mentions hockey smarts, his legs and knowing the Norsemen defensive scheme very well. Kiffin had three goals and 14 points with a +15 rating for the Norsemen and was incredibly reliable, playing in 54 games in his rookie season in the NAHL.
Yet despite having a stellar first year in St. Cloud, his sophomore effort has been even stronger. He’s scored two-thirds of the points he had last season in a third of the games and he’s been expected to play a much bigger role than in the last campaign. Injuries and suspensions at times have depleted the options for the Norsemen’s blueline and Kiffin has picked up a lot of the slack, logging a lot of ice time and in all situations.
“We’re leaning on him a lot with his leadership and his experience,” Millen admits. When asked what has changed in Duke’s game from last season to this Millen answers, “His comfort level, his assertiveness and knowing what we expect out of him and not trying to do too much. Just being a real solid leader for our back end.” That leadership was demonstrated when the coaching staff named Kiffin as an alternate captain, putting the “A” on his Norsemen sweater.
Duke certainly sees improvement in his game this season as well. “It definitely feels like I have made some strides in my overall game, both defensively and offensively this year,” assesses Kiffin. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be put in some opportunities to be more active in the offensive zone and get some power play time. I feel like that’s really helped my game improve to the next level and I feel like I’m taking some strides forward.”
You can catch Duke taking some of those quick strides he’s known for in St. Cloud this weekend. The Minot Minotauros come to town on Friday and Saturday before the three-game homestand wraps up next Wednesday, November 23rd, the night before Thanksgiving against the Austin Bruins. All three games have a puck drop of 7:00 pm and you can still purchase tickets at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com. And for the beer drinkers, be sure to check out the Coors Light Chill Zone. For an extra $3 you can purchase a $13 Chill Zone ticket and enjoy $3 off of the 16 ounce Coors and Coors Light “pounders” for just $2 a can.