The State of Hockey will be well represented on the international stage next month at the Olympics with nine players with Minnesota ties set to compete on the U.S. men’s hockey team.
Three Gophers — forwards Matthew Knies and Ben Meyers and defenseman Brock Faber — were named to the team. Also named were St. Cloud State’s Nick Perbix and Sam Hentges, who was a Wild draft pick in 2018; Minnesota-Duluth’s Noah Cates; Minnesota State-Mankato’s Nathan Smith; Gophers alum Aaron Ness; and Boston College junior Drew Helleson of Farmington. The Olympic team was announced Thursday evening.
The team was put together quickly after the National Hockey League decided to pull its players out of the Olympic competition in December. That move came after a number of postponed games due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. NHL players last competed at the Olympics eight years ago in Sochi, Russia.
The team is primarily composed of college players (15), along with eight who are playing professionally in Europe and two, including Ness, playing in the American Hockey League.
“I think we’ve got a lot of confidence in the players we’ve chosen, (and) we’ve got an awful lot of confidence in the staff that we’ll be able to become a team in a hurry and play as a unit,” head coach David Quinn said.
Meyers, the Gophers’ captain and leading scorer, hails from Delano. The junior said in a release that being named to the Olympic team was “an honor and a dream come true.”
“It’s hard to put into words just how thankful I am, but I’m looking forward to putting on that U.S. jersey and representing my country,” Meyers said in the release.
Faber, a sophomore defenseman from Maple Grove, said in the release that the selection fulfills “a lifelong dream,” and Knies, a forward from Phoenix, called it a “surreal feeling” to be given the opportunity.
“It’s a proud moment for Gopher hockey and it’s a proud moment for all the universities that have guys on this team that are representing their schools,” Quinn said.
Hentges hails from New Brighton; Perbix is from Elk River; Cates is from Stillwater and Smith, who plays at Mankato and currently leads all Division I players with 33 points in 22 games, is from Hudson, Fla.
“I think it says a lot about Minnesota hockey,” Smith said of the large collection of Minnesota college hockey players headed to Beijing.
Minnesota State-Mankato head coach Mike Hastings and St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson were recently tapped as assistants on Quinn’s staff.
The team will have a short time to come together and practice as a unit before kicking off play on Feb. 10 against the host nation, China. The U.S. is in search of its first Olympic medal since the 2010 Vancouver Games when it captured silver.
“Obviously when the NHL players decided they weren’t going to come, we had to pivot quickly to form our Olympic roster,” Quinn said. “… We can’t tell you how excited we are about the team we put together here and we’re just very excited about going over and competing for a gold medal.”