At the end of the day, Red Deer’s Luke Bast couldn’t resist family ties to the University of North Dakota.
Bast officially committed earlier this month to play NCAA Division I hockey for the Fighting Hawks and will join the program in the fall of 2019.
There, he will team up with his brother Gabe, who just finished his freshman season as a forward at UND.
“Not really, but at the same time it did,” Luke said of his brother’s influence on the decision.
“Obviously, not a lot of people have the opportunity to play with their brother. For me to have an opportunity to win a national championship with my brother would be pretty special. Not a lot of people can say that. I’ve never played with him, this will be the first time and probably our last time, so it will be pretty special.”
The younger Bast is coming off a stellar rookie campaign with the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
He was named to the AJHL South Division all-rookie team after posting eight goals, 23 assists in 57 games during the regular season. The defenceman capped off the year with a lights-out playoff run, recording 12 assists and 13 points in 15 games, which led all Bandits.
“Really enjoyed this year and I had some growing pains for sure at the start. Took me a lot longer to adjust to the league than I would have hoped. By the end, I was extremely comfortable,” said the 17-year-old.
While the adjustment from Midget AAA hockey to Junior A last season was one reason for the bumpy start, the defenceman also had some relatively big shoes to fill.
The last player to wear number eight in Brooks before Bast was Cale Makar, who was selected fourth overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft by the Colorado Avalanche. Makar recorded 135 points in 111 games on defence with the Bandits.
“That guy is a special player,” Luke said.
“I’m not Cale Makar or anything like that, obviously wearing number eight, I have some big shoes to fill. Gives me all the more motivation to be better.”
As a 16-year-old, Bast actually had an opportunity to play with Makar and suit up at the RBC Cup, Canada’s National Junior A Championship. Part of his decision to play for the Bandits in the first place was the reputation they had developing defenceman.
“Brooks is the perfect playing style for me. It played a big part in my decision. They lead the AJHL with the most Division I college commits, so that was obviously a big factor,” he added.
Luke could very well get another chance to play in the RBC Cup if he’s still with the Bandits when they host the national tournament in the spring of 2019.
Another factor in the next step was the deep hockey tradition at UND and the pressure of playing with and against some of the best players in college hockey.
“The style of play fits my game to a T,” the five-foot-10, 175-pound defenceman said.
“There are some stats that they are ranked number one in the country in (defenceman) production. Over the last five years they’re always in the top five, so that was a big determining factor. That’s the way I want to play and they play that way. Thought that was a good fit for me.”
Even though the school was a good fit for his playing style, Luke and his family still laboured over the decision. After going through the process and his visits, it still might have been easy to just pick the school his brother goes to and move on.
“There was so much weight off my shoulders. For basically the whole second half of the year, it was hard not to focus on it,” he said.
” Super happy to have it done and over with and I believe I made the right decision.”
The young defenceman knows he needs to add a little strength over the next year if he hopes to crack the lineup at UND in his freshmen season. Mix in the motivation of his NHL Draft year in 2019 and the 17-year-old is already counting down the days until puck drop.
“Every time I move up and hopefully one day play in the NHL, every next level is going to be that much harder,” he said.