Earlier this month, Matthew Nice was heading out to dinner by himself when his phone rang. A phone call from a number he did not recognize was a life-changing event for the Gophers forward, who picked up the phone when he learned of the invitation to the Olympics.
“It was quite a surreal moment that I will never forget,” Nice said.
Knies and Gophers teammates Brock Faber and Ben Meyers were officially named to the US Olympic men’s ice hockey team last week, and they will travel from the city first to Los Angeles and then to Beijing later this month.
Nice, Faber and Meyers are three of the 15 college players on the team. Eight others currently play professionally in Europe with two team members, including former Gophers defenseman Aaron Ness of the American Hockey League.
The trio’s opportunity came after the National Hockey League made the decision in December not to send its players to the Beijing Olympics due to rising COVID-19 cases and disruption to the NHL’s schedule.
“Some teammates would come up to me and say things like, ‘Hey, you might have a chance to get on the team,’ and I never really went into that. I really didn’t want to be hopeful or anything like that,” Meyers said.
Meyers, the Gophers’ captain and top scorer, said he found out about the Olympic invitation about a week before the news went public. This will be his first time representing a country in an international tournament. Faber, a quarterback from Maple Grove, received a warning.
On the day the World Junior Championships were canceled in late December, John Vanbiesbroek, general manager of the US Olympic men’s ice hockey team, took Faber, North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson, and Michigan’s Matty Beniers aside to let them know the possibility.
“As soon as he said ‘Olympics’, your heart nearly sank with excitement,” Faber said. “Obviously, this opportunity comes once in a lifetime. We’re going to get there and represent this country in the best possible way.”
Although Faber had to keep quiet for a while, he had a feeling that both Meyers and Nice, who currently sits second in the Gophers with 22 points in 22 games, would get the same opportunity.
“It was kind of tongue-in-cheek because you just want to scream with happiness and share it with friends and teammates,” Faber said. “When we found out that these two were leaving, it was a special moment for the guys.”
While the trio’s main focus is on Michigan, which the Gophers are hosting this weekend, the Olympics are fast approaching. The team will have a few days to get together and practice before the start of the competition.
While the opening ceremony will take place on Feb. 4, the US men’s hockey team won’t play until Feb. 10, when they face 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. “This is a dream come true. When I was growing up, I watched Miracle… about 50 times a year, it feels like you don’t really understand how special we are, until obviously you are asked to go, and then all the emotions come flooding back. It’s hard to put into words. “.