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All-Area Boys Soccer Player of the Year: East’s Hoffman is willing to do the ‘dirty work’

The Greyhound senior scored 22 goals this season, but his biggest contributions didn’t show up in the stat sheet.

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Duluth News Tribune boys soccer player of the year Kai Hoffman from Duluth East on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at Ordean Stadium in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
CLINT AUSTIN

Duluth East senior Kai Hoffman’s soccer story started like many others — playing in the yard with his dad and brother.

Unlike most kids learning to play, his father Doug Hoffman played in a national championship game at Duke in 1982 and brother Seth Hoffman is a former Duluth News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year and led Duluth East to the Class AA championship game in 2018.

Last month, Kai led the Greyhounds back to U.S. Bank Stadium and this week was named the 2021 News Tribune All-Area Player of the Year.

Kai said when he and Seth were young, they used to build their own goal out of PVC pipes, but graduated to a metal frame when their shots off the crossbar started breaking the plastic.

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Seth, who has helped with Greyhounds’ coach Corey Bachand’s summer camps the last couple years, said he’s enjoyed watching his brother improve his skills.

“It’s been just a blast for me to watch because he was at that awkward age, he didn’t quite have the physical or technical ability he has now,” Seth said. “But to watch him grow over the years has really been a lot of fun. It’s fun to look back to see that it started on our little field out in our yard.”

While Kai led Duluth East with 22 goals this season, it was the things he did that didn’t show up in the stat sheet that pushed the Greyhounds to the Class AAA semifinal.

“What makes Kai different is he really handles pressure well, he understands the needs of the team and not the individual and he really was the teammate we had all year,” Bachand said. “He was not only one of my captains — a great leader who had a lot of points — but the mental side of things that he brings to the team keeps everybody a lot more relaxed and that really, really helped our team succeed.”

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Duluth News Tribune boys soccer player of the year Kai Hoffman from Duluth East on Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, at Ordean Stadium in Duluth. Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
CLINT AUSTIN

In addition to his skills on the field, Kai would pull the team aside before practices and games to get them focused and ready to play.

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“As a coach, you break down the team a lot differently and then you see a player’s perspective,” Bachand said. “Kai did a really good job bringing that to the kids. A lot of kids actually have an easier time digesting that sometimes even than the coaches because we’re not out there on the field, we’re on the sidelines.”

Even when coaches might overlook an opponent, Kai was there to point out a team’s best player or the strongest aspect of the Greyhounds’ opposition.

“A lot of times the coaches wouldn’t know some of these players because I would play against them in the offseason or would watch the tape,” Kai said. “I thought it was important this year, being that we were one of the better teams, that could overlook opponents, but we needed to play every game to the best of our ability.’

Kai’s dedication to keeping the team focused and improving was motivating to the rest of the Greyhounds, according to teammate David Wallerstein.

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Kai Hoffman (11) of Duluth East scores a goal against Moorhead goalkeeper Jacob Vannett (1) during the Class AAA state quarterfinals Oct. 27, 2021, at Irondale High School in New Brighton, Minn. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

“Just the way Kai plays makes you want to work,” Wallerstein said. “You see him working his butt off and you can’t just watch him do that.”

Kai started playing soccer in the backyard with his dad and brother, but it wasn’t long before he was going to his brother’s youth league practices, where Doug served as the coach.

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“I coached Seth’s team growing up and we would spend all winter indoors working on skills,” Doug said. “Every year, it would just be skills, skills, skills and Kai would come in with out team and play with the big boys — he never missed a beat.”

Even this season as the Greyhounds were dominating in the regular season, Kai would break down tape with his dad or even work on skills.

“A testimony to Kai’s work is he would ask ‘Dad, can we work on free kicks,” Doug said. “It’s not just his natural talent — he has talent to be able to do that — but that was him being motivated to work on his free kicks so he can do better for the team.”

The work proved valuable in the semifinal game against Rosemount. With the Greyhounds down a goal in the first half, Kai tied the game off a free kick. Duluth East went on to lose the semifinal 2-1, but even in the loss Kai’s dedication was evident.

Scoring, however, is only one part of Kai’s game. If the team needs him to focus on defense, he’s more than willing to do so.

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Kai Hoffman (11) of Duluth East heads the ball near Reid Wolf (6) of Rosemount during the Class AAA state semifinal game Nov. 3, 2021, at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

In 2020, in the Greyhounds’ games against Duluth Denfeld and two-time All-Area Player of the Year Keegan Chastey, Kai’s job was to mark Chastey and keep him from scoring. Duluth East won both games in shutouts.

“(Kai is) mature and he wants to win and he will do whatever is needed to win the game,” Doug said. “If that means being a support player, if that means playing defense and not scoring goals, that’s of no concern to him. He doesn’t care if he scores the the goals, he cares that he does his part so the team does the best it can.”

Seth said it’s not Kai’s offensive prowess that led to the success, but his willingness to do whatever the Greyhounds need to ensure a win.

“The thing that really impressed me most about Kai is he feasted off just mentally preparing himself and the team for the game, whether that’s breaking down film or talking to his teammates about strategy — any of that,” Seth said. “Then on the field, he was an unsung hero of so many games, not necessarily getting a late goal, but the dirty work he puts in in that midfield, just locking it down defensively and in the air.”

2021 News Tribune All-Area Boys Soccer Team

News Tribune boys soccer players of the year
2021 — Kai Hoffman, Duluth East
2020 — Keegan Chastey, Duluth Denfeld
2019 — Keegan Chastey, Duluth Denfeld
2018 — Seth Hoffman, Duluth East
2017 — Nolan Friday, Duluth East
2016 — Jon Faynik, Duluth Denfeld
2015 — Daniel Hedstrom, Hermantown
2014 — Darby Henderson, Duluth East
2013 — Logan Tamke, Ashland
2012 — Logan Tamke, Ashland
2011 — Hunter Leon, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton
2010 — Patrick Sheedy, Duluth Marshall
2009 — Willis Kantonen, Hermantown
2008 — Evan Odean, Duluth East
2007 — Doug Frey, Duluth Marshall
2006 — Jack Connolly, Duluth Marshall
2005 — Nick Gerard-Larson, Duluth East
2004 — Blake Conboy, Duluth Denfeld
2003 — Ben Brose, Duluth Central
2002 — Nick Lister, Grand Rapids
2001 — Matt Smith, Duluth Denfeld
2000 — Jeremy Kramer, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton
1999 — Zach Burns, Duluth East
1998 — Justin Hockemeyer, Duluth Central

Related Topics: SOCCERBOYS SOCCER
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