The whirlwind of air travel and duct tape that has been 2022 so far for former Gophers star Ben Meyers will include a trip to Europe in the near future. On Wednesday, Meyers was one of three former Gophers named to Team USA for the upcoming IIHF World Championships, to be played later this month in Finland.
It will be the last major trip for Meyers, who skated for Team USA at the Winter Olympics in China in February, flew to Boston for the Frozen Four and then to Denver to start his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche, among other destinations.
Meyers, along with defender Nate Schmidt and forward Vinni Lettieri, will wear the red, white and blue in the tournament, which runs May 13-29 with matches in Tampere and Helsinki, Finland.
The Americans will play in Group B alongside France, the Czech Republic, Finland, Great Britain, Latvia, Norway and Sweden. The United States won the bronze medal last season.
After winning the Big Ten Player of the Year award and helping the Gophers return to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014, Meyers signed with the Avalanche and scored one goal in five NHL games. He is not eligible for the playoffs this season, which makes him available for Team USA, which will be coached by David Quinn. Former Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, current Buffalo Sabers coach Don Granato and Minnesota State University-Mankato head coach Mike Hastings will assist Quinn, who also coached the Team USA at the Winter Olympics.
Lettieri, 27, is coming off a career-best year with the Anaheim Ducks, where he recorded five goals and five assists in 31 NHL games.
Schmidt, 30, has played more than 500 NHL games and recently wrapped up his first season with the Winnipeg Jets, registering four goals and 28 assists in 77 games.
Other Minnesota players named to the Americans’ roster include former Minnesota Duluth forward Karson Kuhlman of Esko and former Boston University forward Kieffer Bellows of Edina. Former Michigan goaltender Strauss Mann, who was a star in Fargo Force before moving to college hockey, was one of three goaltenders named to the team.
Potentially historic draft night for Gophers
While it’s tough to top Michigan’s 2021 NHL Draft, when four Wolverines were selected with the top five picks, the Gophers could have a notable draft night in July, if Central Scouting’s standings the NHL is accurate.
The final list of prospects released ahead of the draft, which takes place July 7-8 at the Bell Center in Montreal, includes a quartet of future Gophers considered potential first-round players. Most notable on this list is incoming forward Logan Cooley, who is ranked second among North American skaters and will likely be removed from the roster by the time the fourth draft pick is announced.
Forward Jimmy Snuggerud, defender Ryan Chesley and defender Sam Rinzel are also among the potential first-round players. Chesley and Snuggerud have signed national letters of intent and are expected to be part of the 2022-23 Gophers roster, while Rinzel recently completed his final preseason hockey season and is expected to join the Gophers in 2023-24, after a full season in the USHL.
Future Gophers defenseman Luke Mittelstadt is ranked 168th and future Gophers forward Connor Kurth is 209th on the list. Forward Cruz Lucius, who recently signed off of the Gophers, is ranked 41st and projected as a potential second-round pick.
In 2006, four Gophers – Erik Johnson 1st overall, Phil Kessel 5th overall, Kyle Okposo 7th overall, and David Fischer 20th overall – went in the first round. Johnson, now with the Avalanche, is the only Gopher to be the top pick in the NHL Draft.
Nightingale’s praise of his time in Minnesota
Early in his coaching career, Adam Nightingale spent two seasons in southern Minnesota coaching Bantams at Shattuck-St. Mary is at Faribault. It was the first time he had managed his own team after spending time as a player and as an assistant.
Based on that experience, the folks in Shattuck who worked with the now 42-year-old Nightingale say Michigan State made the perfect choice when the Spartans named him their next head hockey coach.
“I’ve been with him forever. He’s a great coach and a great guy. Michigan State hired the right person,” said Shattuck prep coach Tom Ward, a former Gopher. “He was a humble, hard-working player and a hard-nosed kid who loves the game and is interested in it. We try to teach kids the right way to play the game, and he wants the same. He was so perfect here.
Ward pointed to Nightingale’s small-town Michigan roots, with a father who was in law enforcement and a mother who was a teacher. Those working-class traits have been reflected in the way he’s coached Shattuck, and Ward sees a lot of things that could be a boon for the Spartans as Nightingale is tasked with making them a Big Ten contender.
“I’m happy for him and not surprised at all that it worked out for him,” Ward said. “He’s a great guy teaching kids the right way to play, and he’s going to work his ass off there.”
Perbix probably headed east, west
Nothing official was announced Thursday afternoon, but sources told The Rink Live that western Michigan will be the landing spot for former Gophers forward Jack Perbix. After three seasons with the Gophers, Perbix entered the transfer portal and has two more seasons of college eligibility. His brother, Nick, played in the NCHC at St. Cloud State, so there is some conference familiarity within the Perbix family.
It’s been a standout season for the Broncos under first-year head coach Pat Ferschweiler, a native of Rochester, Minnesota. WMU was seeded first in the Worcester Regional in the national tournament and won its first NCAA game in school history, beating Northeastern 2-1 in overtime, before losing 3-0 to the Gophers in the regional title match.
In 38 games with the Gophers last season, Perbix had five goals and seven assists for 12 points, all career highs.