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Leo Lööf sees Ilves playing for the cup this season

Vesa Suonsyrjä

The 19-year-old Swedish defenseman Leo Lööf is working towards his NHL dream in Ilves. The tough two-way defender believes that Ilves will be fighting for the championship this season.

Leo Lööf was born in Karlstad, which he also grew up in. The city is in central Sweden on the northern coast of lake Vänern, about 300 kilometers west of Stockholm.

– I have lived in Karlstad my whole life up until now. I have a father, mother, big brother, and a twin brother. My twin brother Linus also plays hockey: we’ve played all these years together and won a lot together, says Leo about his family.

Lööf started playing hockey at seven years old in his hometown’s top team Färjestad BK. The defenseman has a lot of idols, but the one he mentions by name is a certain Swedish player.

– I admired a lot of Färjestad’s players as a kid but not anyone specific. I admired a lot of NHL players too, and one of them was defenseman Erik Karlsson.
When he was younger, Leo played soccer and floorball alongside hockey. Clear reasons led him to choose between the sports.

– I was simply at my best at hockey, and playing hockey was the most fun, Lööf says smiling.

Leo Lööf had amazing seasons in the minors. He was his team’s most prolific defenseman in the 2016–2017 and the 2017–2018 seasons, and he won the under-16 championship. In the 2018–2019 season, Lööf had the most assists in the whole league, and he was named the best defenseman of the under-18 league. How much is left of the high-scoring defenseman of that time?

– A lot has changed throughout the years, but I still have several of those qualities from the U16 years. The leagues get tougher the older you get, and the importance of defense increases. I have a lot of the offensive skills left, but as I’m not playing on the powerplay, I have not yet been able to show everything I’ve got, analyses Lööf, who also represented Sweden in the national junior teams in every age group.

Minors as a steppingstone to professionalism

The season before last, Leo Lööf played a full season with Färjestad’s under-20 team and made a memorable debut with Färjestad in the SHL, the Swedish Hockey League.

– My dream coming true was really awesome. I’ll always remember when I made the roster for the first time, it was a great feeling, Leo says about his SHL debut in a game against Linköping in March 2020.

Lööf was drafted by the St. Louis Blues as the 88th player in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft.

– Getting drafted was great. I was in contact with almost all NHL organizations, two of which showed more interest in me than the others, so I had a good feeling about them. In the end, it was one of these teams, the Blues, that drafted me, and I’m glad about that.

The Covid-19 situation influenced decision making last season, and Lööf played most of the season on loan in Linden Hockey of Hockeyettan, Sweden’s third highest league. Linden Hockey plays in the city of Eskilstuna, 100 kilometers west of Stockholm.

– The decision to loan me to Hockeyettan was quick because the minor leagues did not play due to Covid. I was injured in the early season, and what I needed the most was playing games, Lööf explains about the transfer.

Hockeyettan is a little-known league in Finland. How does the league compare to other leagues Leo has played in?

– Hockeyettan is a little different than the others. The league’s top teams have a lot of great players, but the last-place teams are weaker. This creates a big difference in level compared to Elitserien (SHL) and Liiga, assesses Lööf.

When looking at Leo Lööf’s career, one person keeps popping up: his forward twin brother Linus Lööf, who has practically always played in the same team as Leo. Same happened last season in Hockeyettan. This season Linus is playing for Växjö Lakers in the SHL.

– We are really close, and we talk more or less every day. I try to follow his games as much as possible. It feels kind of weird to play without him, Leo admits.

Leo Lööf is a physical defenseman who skates well, and he can occasionally produce points in the offensive end. How does the man himself describe his playing style?

– I am a two-way defenseman, I enjoy playing physical, and I can take part in the offensive play. I might need to improve my shot in the future, he says.

Still a kid in the big world

The young defenseman has moved to a foreign country and a foreign city. He found a new home in the eastern neighbor of Finland after signing a 1+1-year deal with Ilves of Tampere. How was it like to move to another country at such a young age?

– I knew almost nothing about the team and the city in advance. I searched for these things on the Internet and talked with my agent. Naturally, it was hard to move away from my loved ones at first because I’ll miss them and I’d have to take more responsibility, but all this has also been educational.

When did you move to Tampere, and how has it been?

– I moved to Tampere before the summer practice began. Tampere is a bigger city than where I’m from so it’s different. I’m enjoying myself here, and Tampere is a beautiful city, Lööf praises his new hometown.

Have you adjusted to the team, and did you know any of your teammates beforehand?

– I didn’t know any of them beforehand, and that’s why I was a little nervous at first. But I adjusted pretty quickly to the team, and the other Swedish-speaking players (Salmela, Ikonen, Johansson, Crewe) helped with that. I could talk to them in my native tongue, as I unfortunately can’t speak Finnish at all, says Lööf.

Ilves occupies the number one spot in the league, and Leo Lööf has played 34 games, recording 4+5=9 points. Lööf’s plus-minus, +16, is the team’s best. Are you satisfied with both the team’s showing as well as yours?

– Of course, I’m satisfied with our situation because we’ve had a good season so far, and we’re leading the league. We will try and play the rest of the regular season games well and go deep in the playoffs. The season has been going well personally, too, and I strive to be better all the time. I don’t think about individual point totals, I only want to play well and win games. Points are of course nice, but they’re not my main goal.

It was the start of a new era when Ilves changed arenas and started playing in the Nokia Arena in December. What are your thoughts on the new arena?

– We have a great arena; it is amazing to play in a full Nokia Arena and hear the noise of the crowd. I’m getting an NHL vibe from it, says Lööf.

This year teams have occasionally had to play for empty seats. Does having the fans back in the stands help the players?

– It’s sad that we’ve played many games without spectators. When we have fans at home games, we get a lot of energy from them, and they stand behind us. We have great fans whose help is huge for us, Leo Lööf praises the fans.

You will be with Ilves next season, as well. What affected your decision to stay here?

– I’ve enjoyed my time in Ilves, and I’ve been able to play good hockey. I believe that I can take the next step in my career next season if I take on a bigger role and continue improving. I believe that I can do all of this in Ilves, so it was an easy decision to stay here.

Do you believe that we can win the championship this season?

– I believe that we can win the regular season title. We just need to fight hard every game and stay confident. We need to stay humble but at the same time understand that we are a good team. I hope that we go as deep as possible in the playoffs. We have all the tools to do that, and I believe the season will be long.

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