PHOENIX – Matthew Knies was out at lunch when he received a phone call from a number he did not recognize. He’s glad he picked up. The call was to let him know that he was selected to play for the Team USA men’s hockey at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
It was an exciting and surreal phone call to receive for the Phoenix native, and one he’ll never forget.
“Once I got the call, it didn’t really sink in for a while,” Knies said. “I still think it hasn’t.”
Knies, 19, has 24 points in his freshman season at Minnesota and is second for the Gophers in scoring with nine goals.
With COVID-19 outbreaks wreaking havoc with the NHL schedule, league officials decided in December not to free its players to take part in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The absence of the best professionals in the world – for the second straight Winter Games – created the opportunity for players from the American Hockey League, European Leagues and the NCAA to fill out rosters.
John Vanbiesbrouck, the general manager and assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, said in a statement: “We’re excited about the roster we’ve put together. The Olympics are the biggest stage in sports and it was fun to hear the enthusiasm our players have to represent their country. We’re fortunate to have a deep talent pool – thanks in part to all the great work of our volunteers in communities across the nation – and with the mix of players who are part of our team, we’re looking forward to competing for a gold medal in Beijing.”
Knies will be joined in Beijing by fellow Gophers teammates Brock Faber and Ben Myers. The three were given the news early in January, but could only tell their families until the announcement became official Jan. 13.
“I thought in the back of my head that I was in contention to make the team,” Knies said. “I wasn’t really thinking too much about it. I was focused on hockey here, making sure I was playing well.”
Knies previously represented Team USA at the World Junior Championship last year. He played one game before the tournament was canceled due to a surge in COVID-19.
“It’s a pretty indescribable feeling,” said Knies. “It’s pretty special to play for something much bigger than myself. To play for those colors and play for a country, it’s pretty surreal. I’m just really thankful that I get this opportunity to do it again. It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Knies is the third Arizonan to participate in the Winter Olympics in ice hockey, after Lyndsey Fry in 2014 and Brock Little in 2018.
Three Arizonans – Auston Matthews and the Tkachuk brothers, Matthew and Brady – are active in the NHL. Arizona hockey has been under-represented, but the future looks promising with Knies and freshman Josh Doan of Arizona State in the collegiate pipeline.
“You look back at Arizona hockey and it wasn’t too much, but now you see all the growth that’s come,” Knies said. “I think it’s still growing, it’s only gotten better and it’s rapid now. I think everyone now is starting to pick up hockey sticks and starting to pick up hockey.”
Knies credits growing up watching the Arizona Coyotes and working with Jr. Coyotes coaches Mike DeAngelis, Josh Doan and Steve Sullivan for his development as a hockey player. He participated in the Phoenix Junior Coyotes club program his entire youth career.
“Having those guys around the rink when I was younger, still developing, and becoming a mature hockey player, I think that was huge for them to be there and support me through it and teach me the game the right way,” Knies said. “A lot of thanks go back to my coaches in Arizona during my youth. I’m truly blessed and fortunate to have all those guys in my corner.”
Doan, his friend and former teammate, was thrilled for Knies.
“He’s always worked for it,” Doan said. “I’ve seen it throughout his whole life, how he’s kind of paved his way for himself. His play is showing this year that he’s deserving of it. For him to kind of show his true colors here is super special. I think he’s going to turn some more heads when he gets to Beijing.”
Both Knies and Doan announced a joint hockey academy the two are putting together for the summer of 2022 at the suggestion of Jacob Mars. The camp will take place in Mesa from June 27 to 30.
“We’re doing a camp this summer for youth kids in the Valley and it’s something that the two of us want to give back to Arizona,” said Doan, who praised Mars for making the camp happen.
“Props to him on getting a camp going in Arizona to help grow the game in this area,” he said. “It should be fun.”
Knies said he is honored at the opportunity to represent Arizona hockey at the Winter Olympics in Beijing and is looking to have a positive impact on the game throughout Arizona.
“This opportunity for me to represent Arizona hockey at the Olympics is going to be huge,” Knies said. “I want everyone to know in Arizona hockey that I’m representing them. I want to do it in the best way possible. I’m really fortunate that I came up from Arizona and I can represent them in this kind of stage.”
Knies and his fellow teammates have already gone through quarantine and COVID protocols in Los Angeles and have made their way to Beijing. The team will take on China on Feb. 10, Canada on Feb. 11 and Germany on Feb. 13. All games will be televised on USA Network.