State Hockey will be well represented on the international stage next month at the Olympics with nine players from Minnesota competing on the US men’s hockey team.
The team included three gophers – forwards Matthew Nice and Ben Meyers and defenseman Brock Faber. Also named were St. Cloud State’s Nick Perbix and Sam Henges, who were drafted by the Wild in 2018; Noah Cates of Minnesota-Duluth; Nathan Smith from Minnesota – Mankato; Alum Gophers Aaron Ness; and Boston College freshman Drew Helleson of Farmington. The Olympic team was announced on Thursday evening.
The team was formed quickly after the National Hockey League decided to withdraw its players from Olympic competition in December. The move comes after a string of postponed games due to rising COVID-19 cases. The last time NHL players participated in the Olympics was eight years ago in Sochi, Russia.
The team is primarily made up of 15 college players, eight of whom play professionally in Europe and two, including Ness, play in the American Hockey League.
“I think we have a lot of confidence in the players we have selected (and) we have a lot of confidence in the staff that we can quickly become a team and play like a unit,” said head coach David Quinn.
Meyers, captain of the Gophers and top scorer, hails from Delano. In a press release, the junior said that being on the Olympic team was “an honor and a dream come true.”
“It’s hard to put into words how grateful I am, but I look forward to wearing this USA jersey and representing my country,” Meyers said in a press release.
Faber, a Maple Grove sophomore quarterback, said in a press release that the pick was “a lifelong dream,” while Phoenix’s forward Nice called it “a surreal feeling” to get the opportunity.
“This is a moment of pride for gopher hockey and a moment of pride for all universities that have guys representing their schools on the team,” Quinn said.
Henges is from New Brighton; Perbix from Elk River; Cates is from Stillwater and Smith, who plays in Mankato and currently leads all Division I players with 33 points in 22 games, is from Hudson, Florida.
“I think that says a lot about Minnesota hockey,” Smith said of the large group of Minnesota College hockey players heading to Beijing.
Minnesota-Mankato State head coach Mike Hastings and St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson were recently named assistants to Quinn’s team.
The team will have some time to come together and practice as a unit before the game against host nation China kicks off on February 10th. The US is in search of its first Olympic medal since the 2010 Vancouver Games, when it took silver.
“Obviously when the NHL players decided they weren’t coming, we had to change quickly to build our Olympic roster,” Quinn said. “…We can’t tell you how excited we are for the team we’ve got here and we’re just really excited to go and compete for the gold medal.”