Like many kids growing up in Saskatoon, Sask., Vukie Mpofu (BA’18) dreamed about playing in the National Hockey League (NHL).
Even in elementary school, in all of his assignments, Mpofu would work in an NHL angle, usually about his hero Joe Sakic, the legendary captain of the Colorado Avalanche and future Hall of Famer.
Mpofu, 25, loved hockey and worked passionately to improve his game. It also helped that he was naturally good at it, too. Very good, in fact.
He was born in the United Arab Emirates, moved to Zimbabwe and then to Saskatoon all before he was a year old when his dad accepted a job as a pediatric oncologist.
“An interesting thing about it is that my family moved to Canada from countries where hockey was not something people played. My dad and I actually learned the game of hockey together,” said Mpofu, now part of the executive team as the manager of hockey operations and legal affairs for the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings.
“A lot of kids learned hockey from their dads. But for me, it was different because my dad didn’t know hockey at all. So, as I was learning the game as a kid, he was learning too.”
Before long, Mpofu was spending hours outside playing with the neighbour kids at the frozen Briarwood lake during the winter months.
“Growing up in Saskatoon and being part of the hockey community was an amazing thing for myself and my family,” said Mpofu.
Hard work pays off
The hard work, drive and passion Mpofu had put into becoming a strong player was paying off. No matter the level he was playing, recognition for his talents was evident.
Mpofu was eventually selected by the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League in the annual bantam draft. He ended up playing two seasons in Red Deer before returning to Saskatoon where he graduated from Holy Cross High School.
He demanded accountability from himself and that became evident as he was always tabbed as a team leader, often being named team captain.
Mpofu is quick to credit some of his coaches throughout his career: Fellow USask alumni in Chris Jacobson (BComm’04), Marc Chartier (BSPE’86, BEd’91) and Red Deer’s Brent Sutter.
“Growing up, I had some really good coaches and I had the pleasure of being able to observe and be around some pretty incredible people,” he said. “All along the way, I’ve had some really good mentors and people I could learn from and any leadership qualities I may have picked up were from people in the game that I admired.”
Of course, Mpofu had people at home like his parents and older brothers who provided pivotal influence.
“I got to watch my older brothers (Sabe and Dumiso [BComm’17]) go through school and university, go through different things in life and learn from their experiences.”
It was in Red Deer when Mpofu realized as much as he enjoyed playing the game, he was unlikely to make it as a player in the NHL. But he loved the game and the hockey community and knew he wanted to stay there in some capacity.
He told Coach Sutter his mind was made up and Mpofu returned home to Saskatoon to enrol at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) in the fall of 2014.
“My parents had gotten to Saskatoon on the basis of higher education and I had seen that model in front of me and once I had come to the realization I wouldn’t be an NHL player, I wanted to see if I could get into the business side of hockey as an agent, or on the team side.”
While at USask, he considered playing for the Huskies, but ended up concentrating on his studies to get the best marks possible.
After obtaining a political science degree, Mpofu applied to a number of law schools across North America and ended up selecting UCLA in Los Angeles where it had a unique program for sports and entertainment law.
It ended up opening the door to the NHL’s L.A. Kings in the summer of 2021. Mpofu oversees contract negotiations, salary cap management, collective bargaining issues and analytics with the Kings.
Mpofu isn’t sure where his path will eventually lead, but he’s thankful he’s able to stay in the game he loves.
“I’d like to continue working in hockey operations in the NHL. I really enjoy what I do and get a chance to work with some incredible people,” Mpofu said.
Even though he’s basking in the southern California sun this winter, Saskatoon and USask are never far from his mind.
“The U of S has been a big part of my journey to where I am now. I’m fortunate.”