Jan. 18—Matthew Knies was out to lunch by himself earlier this month when his phone started buzzing. A phone call from a number he didn't recognize wound up becoming a life-altering event for the Gophers forward, who picked up the phone to news of an Olympic invite.
"It was a pretty surreal moment and something I'll never forget," Knies said.
Knies and Gophers teammates Brock Faber and Ben Meyers were officially named to the U.S. men's Olympic hockey team last week, and they will depart town first for Los Angeles and then Beijing at the end of this month.
Knies, Faber and Meyers are three of the 15 college players named to the team. Eight more are currently playing professionally in Europe with two members of the team, including former Gophers defenseman Aaron Ness, playing in the American Hockey League.
The opportunity arose for the trio after the National Hockey League made the decision in December to not send its players to the Beijing Olympics due to a rise in COVID-19 cases and the disruption to the NHL schedule.
"Some teammates would come up to me and say things like, 'Hey, you might have a shot of making the team,' and I never really looked into it too hard. I didn't really want to get my hopes up or anything,'" Meyers said.
Meyers, the Gophers' captain and leading scorer, said he found out about the Olympic invite about week or so before the news became public. This will be his first time representing the country in an international tournament. Faber, a defenseman from Maple Grove, had some advanced notice.
The day the World Junior Championships were canceled in late December, John Vanbiesbrouck, the general manager of the U.S. Olympic men's hockey team, pulled Faber, North Dakota's Jake Sanderson and Michigan's Matty Beniers aside to let them know of the possibility.
"As soon as he said 'Olympics,' your heart almost drops with excitement," Faber said. "Obviously this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. We're going to get over there and represent this country as best we can."
While Faber had to keep quiet for some time, he had a feeling both Meyers and Knies, who is currently second on the Gophers with 22 points in 22 games, would get the same opportunity.
"It was kind of a lot of biting the tongue because you just want to yell in happiness and share it with friends and teammates," Faber said. "When we found out that those two were going, it was a pretty special moment with the guys."
While the immediate focus for the trio is Michigan, who the Gophers host this weekend, the Olympics are coming up quickly. The team will have a few days to come together and get some practices in before the competition begins.
Though the Opening Ceremony will take place on Feb. 4, the U.S. men's hockey team will not play until Feb. 10 when it takes on China. The team will be looking for its first men's hockey medal since 2010 when it won silver in Vancouver.
"It's hard to put into words how excited I am," Faber said. "It's a dream come true. Growing up watching 'Miracle,' ... about 50 times a year it feels like, you don't really understand how special it us until obviously you get asked to go and then all the emotions kind of rush in. It's hard to put into words."