THE SKY IS THE LIMIT FOR RILEY TUFTE. Or maybe it seems that way because, at 6-foot-5, he’s a lot closer to the clouds than most of us. While the Blaine High School senior stands taller than most of his opponents, his silky hands and smooth skating help make him an intriguing prospect for the upcoming NHL Entry Draft.
The future UMD Bulldog is projected to be a first-round selection, according to NHL Central Scouting.
Tufte has experienced lows, along with the highs. As a youngster, he was diagnosed with Type I diabetes. However, coping with diabetes hasn’t deterred his passion—or his performance—for the sport of hockey.
Tufte spoke with us about living with diabetes, what it’s like to have more than 1,000 Twitter followers as a high schooler and growing up in the shadow of another big Blaine standout, Nick Bjugstad.
MHJ // When we first called, you were at a Wild game. Are they your favorite NHL team?
Riley Tufte // Yeah, I’ve always been a big fan of the Wild. I grew up going to games and they’re definitely one of my favorite teams.
MHJ // Are there any players around the league you looked up to?
RT // I’ve always looked up to Nick Bjugstad, who now plays with the Florida Panthers. He played hockey with my brother [Gavin] and I always looked up to him.
MHJ // He’s a big, tall forward like yourself.
RT // Yeah, we’re a lot alike.
MHJ // Did you try to emulate him growing up or do you ask for his input?
RT // Right now, I’m kind of going through the same stuff that he went through. So, I go to him for advice and anything like that. He’s always been a big influence on me. I’ve always looked up to him.
MHJ // Since he was buddies with your older brother, the younger brother gets picked on and tries to tag along. Did they let you play shinny with them?
RT // Yeah, they did. They always let me play and hang out with them. They’d beat up on me though (laugh). They wouldn’t let me have it easy.
MHJ // What attracted you to UMD?
RT // I grew up going to Duluth with a ton of hockey tournaments and always went to at least one game while I was there. It’s always been a big dream of mine to play for them. I like the coaching staff, facilities and they’ve got a great school. It’s a bit of a smaller school, so I think that’s the right fit for me.
MHJ // They have a fantastic rink. How much does that play into it when you get a chance to see that place filled and rocking?
RT // When I was younger, the DECC was there. AMSOIL has been around for a few years now. When they built that thing, it was amazing. With everything, it was like, why wouldn’t you want to go there?
Riley (left) as a Mite with older brother Tanner.
Riley as a Squirt
Riley (front left), Tanner (middle left), Nick Bjugstad (back left), sister Tessa and oldest brother Gavin (right).
MHJ // You were diagnosed with diabetes when you were younger. For those of us who don’t know a lot about it, can you explain what that means?
RT // I have Type I diabetes. Basically, my pancreas doesn’t work anymore and that’s what kicks out insulin. I have to give myself injections when I eat or drink sugar, so I’m giving myself insulin.
I was diagnosed when I was 11, when I was a first-year Peewee. I had some symptoms—I was getting thirsty a lot, I was using the bathroom a lot and I was losing a lot of weight. I think I lost 20 pounds. I was really tired and I’d come onto the bench for hockey and drink a whole bottle of water, which isn’t normal. My mom took me to get checked out. I went in and the doctor said I was a Type I diabetic. I went to the hospital right away and they put me on IVs. I was in there for three days.
MHJ // How did that impact or influence your hockey and just in life?
RT // It doesn’t hurt me at all. I actually think it kind of helps me because I know what I’m putting into my body. I try to stay as healthy as I can and stay on top of it.
MHJ // Nutrition, diet and exercise are now so important to athletes now.
RT // I know I have to eat healthy with my diabetes, so it helps me with that.
MHJ // You have about 1,500 Twitter followers. What appeals to you about social media and are you aware of the impact it can have?
RT // Yeah, I really watch what I put on social media. When I was younger, I didn’t—but it’s not like I put anything bad on there. I know social media can have an influence on your career and people are watching what you do.
MHJ // What’s your favorite social media channel?
RT // I’m a big Instagram guy. Twitter and Instagram (follow him on both @RileyTufte27) are the ones I’m most active on.
MHJ // When did you hit your growth spurt?
RT // I’ve always been one of the bigger ones in my class, but in middle school, I shot up in sixth and seventh grade. My freshman year of high school I was 6-3 and between my junior and senior year I’ve gotten up to 6-5.
MHJ // You'll likely be invited to the NHL Combine. Is there anything else you're more aware of with how you eat, how you work out and how you approach hockey with the draft coming up?
RT // Like I said before, I've always watched what I eat. I'm going to train really hard, whether or not I get invited. Just concentrating on training hard and, outside of hockey, being a good person in the community.