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SCSU gets commitment from 'immensely talented' Slovakian wing

Lubomir Kupco is a 19-year-old playing in his second season for the Des Moines Buccaneers in the USHL

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Lubomir Kupco of the Des Moines Buccaneers.
Courtesy Justin Scavo / Dynamic Motion

DES MOINES, Iowa — Less than a year ago, Lubomir Kupco flew from Slovakia to Iowa to play juniors in the United States Hockey League.

As an 18-year-old in a new country, there were several adjustments he had to make on and off the ice. He joined the Des Moines Buccaneers in January and played a little more than three months with the team. Kupco is back with the Buccaneers this season and the team is benefiting from a more experienced wing.

"It was a bit of an adjustment period for him from the language to the culture to the style of play," Des Moines coach Matt Curley said of Kupco. "That time he spent with us last year served him incredibly well heading into this year.

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Lubomir Kupco
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

"He did a nice job last year," Curley said of Kupco, who had 17 points in 27 games with the team in 2021-22. "Having that foundation of comfortability in coming back for Year 2 has made a world of difference. He's been a rock star for us."

Kupco — pronounced "COOP-cho" — has four goals and eight points in nine games for Des Moines this season. On Nov. 16, he verbally committed to play for St. Cloud State.

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Curley has spent a good deal of time around NCAA Division I hockey. He played defense for Clarkson University (2003-07), was an assistant coach at Bentley University (2013-15) and was the head coach at Alaska-Anchorage (2018-21).

Curley sees a lot of potential in Kupco, who is listed at 5-foot-11 and 175 pounds.

"Two words come to mind with Lubo and that's 'hard skill,'" he said. "What I mean by that is that we have a lot of talented players in our league ... but the one thing that Lubo brings is a certain degree of toughness.

"He's not afraid to go into corners. He's not afraid to go to take pucks to the net. As immensely talented as he is, he's not afraid to go to those dirty areas of the ice. He's not afraid to stick his nose into it. Couple that with a really nice hockey IQ and elite speed — he's a tremendous skater. It all comes together to make a pretty nice hockey player."

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Learning about college hockey

Teams are allowed six foreign players, including a maximum of four Europeans, on their rosters in the USHL. Kupco is finishing high school through Slovakian online courses. As he has gotten more accustomed to American culture, his interest in playing college hockey has grown.

"I think it was a chance to come to the U.S. and play in the best junior development league in the world," Curley said of why Kupco came over last season. "I think seeing these (teammates) talk about universities and colleges and playing college hockey, I think he educated himself by listening to his teammates and seeing them go on visits.

"I think it was one of those things where, 'This might be a really cool option for me,'" Curley said. "We encouraged him to pursue that and educate himself. He's a wonderful person. He's a wonderful player. He's a great example of when an opportunity presents itself, try something new. Now he has this world-class experience that he's going to have at St. Cloud."

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Lubomir Kupco has four goals, eight points, six penalty minutes and is a plus-3 in his first nine games this season playing for the Des Moines Bucaneers in the United States Hockey League.
Courtesy of Justin Scavo / Dynamic Motion

Kupco is averaging 15:11 of ice time per game on the wing for the Buccaneers, is playing on a power-play unit and wins 51% of his puck battles.

"With his skating ability and speed, it's nice to have him on the wall and he can generate a lot on the rush," Curley said. "With back pressure and backchecking, he does a nice job.

"Not to take anything away from him defensively — where he does a nice job — being on the wing allows him to utilize a bit more of that skill set and that hard skill on the wall."

And as he has gotten more comfortable in his surroundings, Curley said that the team has seen more of his personality this season.

"Last year might have been a little tough for him and his English was not the greatest," Curley said. "His personality is that he's innately a very shy person.

"He's got such a funny personality. The (players) absolutely love him. Coming back this year, he's opened up a little bit more and it's funny when the guys interact with him in the locker room. He's a great teammate and the guys love him for it."

Kupco could join the Huskies next season or he has another season of junior eligibility remaining.

Mick Hatten is a reporter and editor for Forum News Service and helps manage TheRinkLive.com, a website dedicated to hockey. He began working for Forum Communications in November 2018 and has covered St. Cloud State University hockey since 2010. A graduate of St. Cloud State, he has more than 30 years of experience as a journalist and has been a youth hockey coach since 2014. mhatten@forumcomm.com
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