Cool hand Luke
by Chris Jurewicz|24 DEC 2022
Team USA defender Luke Mittelstadt skates during a pre-competition game against Finland prior to the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.
photo: USA Hockey
Growing up with two older, hockey-loving brothers drove Luke Mittelstadt to where he is today, a proud member of Team USA that will compete at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship.

His hockey skills improved during those countless hours spent shooting pucks on a sport court in the back yard of their Eden Prairie, Minnesota home – a court that was turned into a backyard rink in the winter – but time spent with Casey and John also lit a competitive fire in Luke.

“The biggest thing that stuck out to me is they taught me how to be a competitor. There were always sore losers in the house, always. If you lost, you were throwing a fit, you were doing this and that,” says Luke with a chuckle. “It’s not always great to be a sore loser but I think it teaches you how to be competitive and it really taught me to hate losing.

“We’d be playing card games with the family and one of us ends up upset every single time or playing Xbox and whoever loses is going to throw a controller. It did not stop.”

The Mittelstadts are well known in hockey circles not only in Minnesota but throughout the United States and beyond.

Casey, the oldest, was born in 1998 and was taken eighth overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. He’s currently in his fifth full season with the Sabres and looks to have secured an important role on an up-and-coming team.

John, the middle boy, was born in 2001 and is currently playing at the University of Minnesota with his younger brother Luke. Casey and John are the forwards of the family, while Luke is a defender and is the second member of the family to play at the World Juniors, with Casey helping Team USA to bronze in 2018.

“Neither of my parents played hockey growing up. My dad loved it, he always played on ponds but he never played competitively,” says Luke. “He played football, baseball, basketball, pretty much everything but hockey. My mom was into volleyball and softball. They just gave it a shot and Casey loved it and we all three ended up falling in love with it.”

Luke and John were born about 15 months apart so played minor hockey together every other year. In fact, the two were linemates in the early days and then, around the age of 12, there was a shortage of defenders on their team and Luke was moved back to the blueline. He had a knack for the position right off the bat and has never looked back.

The three brothers have a tight bond through the game of hockey and keep in constant touch.

“I have learned a ton from Casey, just having that work ethic and showing up to the rink every day and having fun. Never taking anything for granted is what he has taught me,” says Luke. “He’s never really teaching me what to do on the ice, he just wants me to enjoy it and have fun with it every day. And then as far as John goes, we grew up playing with each other so I think we taught each other a ton and he really helped me grow through the years. He was always a little more mature than I was so having him around was super helpful.”

What hockey fans can expect to see from Luke is a smooth-skating, two-way defender who excels at moving the puck or carrying it out of the defensive zone to start an offensive attack. He seems to be a composed young man who knows what he wants – the end goal being the NHL – and knows what it takes to get there.

Anyone who plays a competitive sport for the long haul will tell you of the ups and downs that happen over time, the need to never get too high or too low. Luke faced a tough situation in the summer of 2021 when he wasn’t taken in the NHL Entry Draft but, rather than sulk, he is using it as motivation to continually improve and reach his ultimate goal.

“A lot of people reached out to me that day and helped me out a ton. My brothers texted me right away and just said ‘you’re going to be fine, don’t worry about it’,” he says. “People have told me that it’s a blessing not being drafted and ever since that, I have started to see it that way a little bit more. Just having all those people reach out to me that day and text me was really helpful and helped my mindset.”

For now, the focus is on bringing back gold to the United States. Luke can’t wait to hit the ice at this tournament and play for his country.

“It means everything to me. Having that USA across my chest is a huge honour and something you can’t take for granted.”