The legendary Miracle on Ice of 1980 was fueled by a handful of Minnesota Gophers and some key contributors from Boston University combining to produce Olympic hockey gold. More than four decades later, USA Hockey is determined to see if that formula still works.
On Thursday, David Quinn – the former Boston University player and coach who will lead Team USA at the 2022 Winter Olympics next month – tabbed four current or former Gophers among the 25 players who will head to Beijing, China, to wear red, white and blue jerseys in search of the nation’s first men’s hockey gold medals since 1980.
On the blue line, current Gophers defenseman Brock Faber and 2008 Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner Aaron Ness, a former Gopher, were named to the squad. At forward, current Gophers co-captain Ben Meyers and one of his linemates, freshman Matthew Knies, were tabbed as well. The current Gophers are expected to miss six games in February, but despite the loss of personnel, their coach is delighted about their opportunity.
“There’s no greater honor than representing your country at the Olympics, and we’re certainly proud that four players from the University of Minnesota are going to get that opportunity this year,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said, in a statement released by the school. “Gopher hockey has a tremendous legacy over the last century, and part of that history is our connection to USA Hockey and some of the most iconic moments in U.S. Olympic history. We look forward to watching this group add to that legacy.”
Three of the four are Minnesotans – Ness (Roseau), Faber (Maple Grove) and Meyers (Delano) – while Knies is from Arizona.
It will be the first international hockey experience for Meyers, who is currently the Gophers’ leading scorer. Ness, who has played more than 70 NHL games since leaving the U of M in 2011, was a member of Team USA for the 2008 World Juniors and won a bronze medal. Knies and Faber skated for Team USA in the 2022 World Juniors, although the Americans played just one game before the tournament was canceled due to the pandemic. Faber also skated for the Americans in the 2021 World Juniors and won a gold medal there.
The collegians were named to the team after the original plan to send NHLers overseas was scrapped due to the pandemic. Quinn said the key was finding the right on-ice mix of talents.
“We wanted to take the best team possible to compete for a gold medal,” said Quinn, who was most recently the New York Rangers coach for three seasons. “When we looked at the player pool that was available to us, we thought speed, skill, pace, tempo was going to be the strength of our team. It’s kind of like putting a band together. You don’t pick five lead singers…and that was certainly our mindset when going through this process.”
The four Gophers and four Michigan Wolverines represent the largest numbers for any college program.
“Bobby Motzko thinks we took too many Gophers right now, but that’s OK,” Quinn joked in a Zoom call with reporters shortly after the roster announcement. “He was unbelievable. It’s a proud moment for Gopher hockey and a proud moment for all the universities that have guys on this team representing their schools.”
Quinn noted the geographic diversity on the team as well, with players from California, Alaska, Arizona, Montana, Florida and elsewhere, in addition to more traditional hockey states like Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts.
There are eight players with Gophers hockey connections on the USA women's team. In addition, Gophers strength and conditioning coach Cal Dietz will travel to Beijing to work with Team USA. The Americans’ first men’s game is Feb. 10 versus host China.