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Beautiful contradictions fuel Matthew Knies' drive for national title, and the Hobey

A rink rat from Arizona desert, and a star that makes plays which only show up to the naked eye, Matthew Knies season has been one to remember.

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Michigan goaltender Erik Portillo (1) takes the deflection from Minnesota Gophers forward Matthew Knies (89) in the chest during the third period of a their game at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis on Friday, Jan. 20, 2023.
John Autey / Pioneer Press

MINNEAPOLIS – It was a tense time in Fargo with the Minnesota Gophers and St. Cloud State Huskies trying to end each other’s season. Minnesota led 1-0 in the first period, and while the deeper Gophers had dominated the early stretches of the game, Huskies goalie Jaxon Castor had kept it close. An officiating crew from Hockey East had sent a Gopher to the penalty box with regularity, and the Huskies had used that man advantage to tilt the momentum in their favor.

Then Matthew Knies, the Gophers sophomore left winger who has become known for his amazing on-ice feats, made a play that was within inches of being etched in Gophers lore. Killing a penalty, he took the puck to the corner to the right of Castor, with three Huskies converging on him. From that unfair 3-on-1 trap, like Jack Reacher emerging from a street fight, Knies left all three black-jerseyed opponents — Cooper Wylie, Adam Ingram and Veeti Miettinen — grasping at air, and pulled the puck out of the fracas. With Aaron Huglen streaking to the net, Knies fed a pass and Huglen just barely missed the tap-in, with Huskies defender Zach Okabe sliding into the frame and briefly dislodging the net.

On paper, the play counted for nothing. A glance at the box scores from the Gophers’ 9-2 win over Canisius and their 4-1 win over the Huskies in Fargo shows, amazingly, Knies did not have a goal or an assist in 13 times that the red light came on behind the opposing goalie.

Matthew Knies Draft Media Day
Minnesota Gophers forward Matthew Knies was selected by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft.
Contributed / University of Minnesota Athletics photo

But the play in question illustrates one of the reasons why Knies is one of three finalists to win the Hobey Baker Award this week in Florida. The other two-thirds of the Hobey hat trick – Michigan rookie forward Adam Fantilli and Gophers rookie forward Logan Cooley – are first and second, nationally, in scoring. Knies is tied for 18th. Still, Knies brings elements to the game that can, and cannot, be measured with ones and zeroes. As a second-year player, has produced a handful of eye-popping moments with the puck that make his 2022-23 season one that fans will remember for years to come.

Two from Minnesota and one from Michigan are the trio remaining in contention for college hockey's top individual honor, which will be handed out April 7 in Tampa.

And like a player who makes an amazing move that is not always reflected on the scoresheet, so much of what makes Knies what he is remains rooted in contradiction.


  • Knies displays skating and stick skills that are not uncommon for players whose game was honed through hours of work and play in the cold on the neighborhood’s outdoor rink. But his hometown is Phoenix, Arizona, and skating outside on ice was never a part of Knies’ childhood.
  • The first-generation American son of Slovakian immigrants, Knies has worn the red, white and blue of Team USA at World Juniors and at the 2022 Winter Olympics, but admits that he has trash-talked players from Slovakia and the Czech Republic in games using words they understand, as their native languages were often spoken in the Knies house.
  • Built like a player that could as easily be playing linebacker across the street from 3M Arena at Mariucci for P.J. Fleck, Knies is able to twist and turn his broad-shouldered, 6-foot-3 frame into and out of some amazingly tight squeezes. With a penchant for a stick lift that commonly leaves opposing forwards wondering where their puck went, he is as feared as a backchecker as he is leading the offensive charge.
  • Despite having that rare combination of size, speed and stickhandling, Knies was not picked until the second round of the 2021 NHL Draft by the Toronto Maple Leafs, but has grown into one of the club’s hottest commodities, with general manager Kyle Dubas making regular appearances at Gophers games, and the Leafs reportedly making it known that Knies’ rights were untouchable at the most recent trade deadline.
The New Prague native is a two-time U18 gold medalist and was a prep standout before producing 146 points in 160 games over five seasons in maroon and gold.
In an unexpected move, the two-time national champion player will not be back with the U of M after two seasons working for head coach Brad Frost and helping her alma mater to the Frozen Four.
With much of his offense returning, we expect coach Bob Motzko will add three forwards, three defensemen and a goalie to a roster that was within a few minutes of winning the NCAA title in April.
After leading the Gophers offensively in his final college season, some thought NHL success was inevitable for the Finnish forward. After battling injuries in the AHL, he is back in Europe.
Larson has international experience from his stint as an Olympic assistant coach in 2022, while Miller will be working his seventh World Juniors for Team USA, and looking for his third gold medal.
A prep state champion as a sophomore, Begley spent parts of the last two seasons in the NAHL, most recently with the Wisconsin Windigo where he was the team's top-scoring defenseman.
Starting next season, men's and women's season-ticket holders for the Minnesota Gophers will be able to return seats they cannot use and get credit for future season ticket purchases.
The defenseman originally from southern California was a four-year regular on the U of M blue line, and a first-round pick of Buffalo in 2019.
Transfers from St. Lawrence, Princeton and UMD will help bolster the Gophers on the back end next season as they try to find a way back to the Frozen Four and repeat as WCHA tourney champs.
The Minnesota Gophers center led the team in scoring on the way to a Big Ten title and a trip to the NCAA title game, and recently announced he will return for a sophomore college hockey season.
Fargo native Trent Wiemken has gone 8-1-1 in the Robertson Cup playoffs as the mainstay goalie for the Austin Bruins playoffs while working with former Minnesota Gophers goalie Nick Lehr's coaching.
The former Minnesota Mr. Hockey winner is coming off a senior campaign where he notched career highs in goals and points while playing right wing on the Gophers' second line much of the season.

With, at best, two Gophers’ games remaining, the end of their 2022-23 season is near. With Dubas’ interest in the team and his prized prospect, and with the Maple Leafs playing in Tampa three days after the national title game, rumors persist that Toronto will sign Knies to a contract on Sunday and just have him stay in Florida to make his NHL debut.

A few weeks ago, after a ridiculous no-look, between-the-legs drop pass by Knies had set up Cooley for the eventual game-winner versus Ohio State, Gophers coach Bob Motzko talked about how much Knies has grown in his second season of college hockey and added that he can’t wait to see how much Matthew grows in year three with the Gophers.

It brought a chuckle from some of those in the media scrum, but as the end of season two nears, several people close to Knies, and to the Gophers, have indicated that his timeline to get to the NHL might be more next year than next week, and another season in maroon and gold is not a crazy idea.

There is also the matter of the Hobey to consider. Knies was named most valuable player in the Big Ten, which was clearly college hockey’s strongest conference this season. That is an honor for which neither Cooley nor Fantilli was nominated. Some have noted that his point production is a knock on Knies’ chances to win the trophy, while others have lobbied that the Hobey has never been a “scoring champion” honor. It is perhaps worth a reminder that a goaltender won it last season.

If his name is called on Friday in Tampa and Knies does become the fifth Gopher to win college hockey’s top individual honor, we will certainly hear from those critics wondering how, based on their glance at the boxscores, how this award makes sense.

But with a big body that maneuvers like a waterbug, and the display of a rink rat game from a kid reared in the triple-digit heat of the Arizona desert, raising that trophy on the eve of the national title game would just be the latest in the long list of Matthew Knies and his beautiful contradictions.

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Minnesota's Matthew Knies beats UND goalie Drew DeRidder 21 seconds into overtime to give the Gophers a 3-2 win at Mariucci Arena Friday, Oct. 21, 2022.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Jess Myers covers college hockey, as well as outdoors, general sports and travel, for The Rink Live and the Forum Communications family of publications. He came to FCC in 2018 after three decades of covering sports as a freelancer for a variety of publications, while working full time in politics and media relations. A native of Warroad, Minn. (the real Hockeytown USA), Myers has a degree in journalism/communications from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He lives in the Twin Cities. Contact Jess via email at jrmyers@forumcomm.com, or find him on Twitter via @JessRMyers. English speaker.
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