Chicago Steel defenseman Karlis Cukste (Riga, Latvia) has committed to play NCAA Division I hockey for the national runner-up Quinnipiac Bobcats (ECAC) in Hamden, Conn. Cukste, 18, is the 18th player on Chicago’s season-ending roster to commit to a Division I hockey program and the sixth Steel player to earn a commitment during the 2015-2016 season.
The 6-2, 203-pound defenseman tallied four goals and 11 assists in 44 games this season with the Steel. He was named CCM/USHL Defenseman of the Week on Feb. 15 after recording three assists vs. Sioux City (Feb. 12), one of Cukste’s three multi-point outings of the season.
Cukste was selected by the San Jose Sharks in the 2015 NHL Draft in the 5th round, 130th overall.
“We are thrilled for Karlis and look forward to watching him as he starts the next chapter of his career at Quinnipiac,” said Steel head coach Dan Muse. “He played a huge role for us and we used him in all situations this year. He has worked hard to earn this opportunity and to prepare himself for college hockey.”
Cukste was named Best Defenseman in the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship (Division I-A), as he and fellow Steel player Haralds Egle helped Latvia win the tournament and earn a promotion to the top level of the 2017 World Junior Championship.
“I’m really excited,” said Cukste. “It’s a great academic school and hockey program and I think it is a great fit for my style of game, especially with the defensemen getting involved a lot in the play. Plus, hockey is the number one sport there, and the fan support and excitement is one of the big reasons I made this decision.”
Cukste also spoke about his year with the Steel assisting him adapt to life and hockey away from his native Europe.
“The coaches in Chicago were great, especially with putting in extra work after practices to work on parts of my game that I don’t consider my strengths. This year really helped me adjust to playing the North American style of hockey.”
The Bobcats just completed a record-setting 32-win season, capped off with a fourth-consecutive NCAA Tournament bid and their second Frozen Four appearance. Quinnipiac entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 1 overall seed after winning both the ECAC’s regular season and postseason titles, ultimately falling to the University of North Dakota in the National Championship on April 9.
Four of Cukste’s Steel teammates are also committed to ECAC programs: Egle (Clarkson University), Jack Gessert (Brown University), Jake Nielsen (St. Lawrence University) and Billy Sweezey (Yale University).
Headquartered in Chicago, Illinois, the USHL celebrates its 14th season as the nation's only Tier I junior hockey league in 2015-16. A record 37 players were chosen in the 2015 NHL Draft and more than 375 players on team rosters last season committed to NCAA Division I schools, further establishing the USHL as the world’s foremost producer of junior hockey talent.
Tag(s): Top Story