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Nine players with Minnesota connections named to United States Olympic men’s hockey team

Minnesota hockey is well represented on the just released U.S. national team roster for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, with nine players with close ties to the state heading to the Games.

Three Gophers – Ben Meyers, Matthew Knies and Brock Faber – made the team. Minnesota Duluth’s Noah Cates, Minnesota State Mankato’s Nathan Smith, and St. Cloud State’s Sam Hentges and Nick Perbix are also heading to Beijing.

Aaron Ness, the 2008 Mr. Hockey from Roseau High School who played for the Gophers and is now in the AHL, will be a defenseman for the team, as will Boston College Drew Helleson, who is a native of Farmington and has frequented Shattuck-St. that of Mary.

The nine male Olympic players tied with Minnesota match the nine on the women’s Olympic team, revealed on Jan. 1. The “State of Hockey” has already filled the Olympic rosters on several occasions, including the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” team, which numbered 13 Minnesota-born players and St. Paul-born Herb Brooks as one. coach.

For this team, USA Hockey previously announced Mike Hastings of Minnesota State Mankato and Brett Larson of St. Cloud State as assistant coaches under the direction of head coach David Quinn.

“That says a lot about Minnesota hockey,” said Smith, a Florida native who is in his third season with the Mavericks. “And with Coach Hastings being an assistant coach, I think he’s just as proud as any of us. It’s a unique thing in his life. So I think he’s really looking forward to it. be there too. He’s excited. “

The mix of veteran European Leagues and AHL players with collegial outlook stems from the NHL’s decision not to send its players to the Olympics. The NHL cited concerns over COVID-19 as Chinese restrictions could require any athlete who tests positive at the Games to spend several additional weeks in the country for quarantine.

USA Hockey won’t have much time to assemble this team. While some will meet in Los Angeles before traveling to Asia, those playing in European professional leagues will have to travel directly to China. Thus, the first time that the whole unit will be reunited, it will be on the evening of February 3 in Beijing. The team’s first game is on February 10, which gives Quinn about a week to strengthen the team.

“We have guys who’ve played together before, so maybe we’ll start with them,” Quinn said on a Thursday night video call with Smith. “… There has been some talk about row combinations and D-pairs and things like that. But we’re going to have to make decisions quickly. There isn’t much time for practice. There isn’t much time for practice. not much time for players to play on bad stretches. “

Quinn said all of his coaching staff have experience playing or coaching internationally, as have many players, despite some of them being young. Michigan’s Matty Beniers, for example, won the world junior championships last season and is still just 19.

“It says a lot about the quality of college hockey, and not just in a league,” Beniers said on the same video call. “… There are a lot of good players out there, and college hockey is really good. I think it is sometimes forgotten. It’s difficult. It’s big. It’s quick. It’s difficult. And I think that prepares you well for the next level. “

Gophers coach Bob Motzko has said his players will miss at least six college games, starting in late January, with the Games scheduled for February 4-20.

Motzko called this a “great opportunity” for his trio of players. But he also recognized the difficult situation his team found themselves in, as well as others around the NCAA.

“Bob Motzko thinks we’ve taken too much Gopher right now, but that’s okay,” Quinn joked. “No, he was amazing. It’s a proud moment for Gophers hockey, and it’s a proud moment for all the universities that have guys on this team.

Meyers lamented that he will miss games with the Gophers, who are looking to make the Frozen Four this season after finishing just a year ago.

But for the undrafted Delano native who originally pledged to play college hockey in Nebraska Omaha, it’s the fulfillment of an almost unbelievable dream.

“I’ve never had the chance to play for Team USA at any level, really,” Meyers said earlier this week before the roster was announced. “It would definitely be an honor. I don’t know if I can really put it into words now.”

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