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Loving life at ice level, Mason Nevers provides the brains that make the Minnesota Gophers' second line go

In less than three seasons of college hockey, the Edina product has gone from being a healthy scratch some nights to playing a vital offensive role on the Minnesota Gophers second line.

Minnesota Gophers forward Mason Nevers celebrated his second-period, power-play goal which tied the game on the way to a 3-1 win over Penn State on Friday, Nov. 11, 2022 at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
Brace Hemmelgarn / Gopher Sports

MINNEAPOLIS — By the time most players get to high-level college hockey teams like the Minnesota Gophers, they’re used to being one of the stars of the show. Naturally, not all of them can be top-liners in the Big Ten, and the adjustment is sometimes challenging.

Placed on the third or fourth line, or even left off the line charts some nights, there are players who don’t take it well. Finding themselves in a nice suit, watching from the stands on game night, some get sad. Some get mad. And in this era of the transfer portal, some of them look for other places to study and skate.

Mason Nevers was a star for Edina High School, averaging better than two points a game on the Hornets’ 2019 state title team. But as a freshman with the Gophers, he found himself left off the line chart on a half-dozen occasions as he worked to get his body and his game into college hockey shape. On those nights he didn’t get mad or sad. He got smart.

Now a junior, playing on one of the Gophers’ top two lines and excelling on the ice, Nevers looks back at those “healthy scratch” nights watching his teammates from the audience as a valuable part of his growth as a player. Namely, the chance to watch the game from a different angle was invaluable.

“Seeing the game from different perspectives can really show you how much time you have on the wall, and when to shoot,” Nevers said after a recent Gophers practice.


Ice-level intelligence

Nevers had just two goals as a college hockey rookie, but saved his best for last, scoring twice in a NCAA playoff win over Omaha. Paired with current (Ben Meyers) and future (Matthew Knies) NHLers last season, Nevers’ game and production jumped up last season. As a junior, he is on a near-perfect second line, featuring Jaxon Nelson at center in the classic “big body up the middle” role and Bryce Brodzinski on the right wing, playing the sniper role. That leaves an obvious title for Nevers on the left wing.

“He’s the brains,” Gophers coach Bob Motzko said. “He’s really an intelligent player. We just waited for his body to mature. But I still don’t think Nevers shaves. I don’t think he does. That’s what’s scary. I still think there’s another level he’s going to hit.”

The level Nevers has reached midway through his junior year has him already eclipsing his career highs for goals (7), assists (6) and points (13). Nevers likes to joke that his only job is to get the puck to Nelson and Brodzinski, but he is a truly vital piece that makes the line work so effectively. Their chemistry, on and off the ice, and a commitment to complete honesty has factored into their success thus far.

“He’s got some skill with his hands and can make plays. Mason is really smart and always knows where to be,” Nelson said. “Being older guys we kind of understand the way we need to play. And us being really close, we can get on each other. If someone’s not having a good game you can get on them and they’re not going to take it personal because it’s in the best interest of each other.”

Diamond determination

Nevers’ father Tom was a multi-sport star at Edina in the late 1980s and had accepted a hockey scholarship to the U of M before baseball’s Houston Astros picked him in the first round of the 1990 MLB draft as an infielder. The elder Nevers toiled for more than a decade in the minor leagues, and even played one hockey game for the Gophers while finishing his college degree.

Mason was not pushed into one sport or another, but played baseball as well as hockey, and remains one of the organizers of the Gopher hockey team’s summer softball squad which won its league championship in 2022. The best advice he got from his father, Mason said, is to know who you are and thrive on being real.

“If there was anything he taught me it was just be yourself,” Mason said. “You don’t need to be Superman out there. You’ve made it here being who you are, so that was a big thing. Always believe in yourself. Bet on yourself and against other people.”


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After a season of junior hockey in Des Moines, he was the only rookie forward added to the Gophers roster for the 2020-21 season and made his college hockey debut in the midst of the pandemic, with the arenas mostly empty. Nevers said it felt like you were playing on a backyard pond with nobody watching. A year later, when crowds started to come back, it was an eye-opener.

“When we played Mercyhurst there were 3,000 or 4,000 people and it felt like it was packed to the brim for us,” he recalled of his sophomore season's start. That season ended with a trip to the Frozen Four, and concluded two wins shy of their ultimate goal.

Writing on the wall

Not long after their return from Boston, Motzko wrote four names on a whiteboard - a quartet of Gophers that he expected to take a massive step forward in their games this season.

“Nelson and Nevers are two of the four, and have taken monster steps – monster steps – in the development process and their ownership of the game,” Motzko said. “Now they’re into it. Now they’re feeling it, and it’s fun to see.”

He got there, in part by working hard on his skating over the summer, developing – in Mason’s words – “feet that could keep up with my brain.” On the ice that manifests itself in performances like a Friday night win at Michigan State, where Nevers set up Logan Cooley with a pass from behind the net for a first-period goal, then was able to weave his way through Spartan traffic later in the game to set up Brodzinski for a snipe.

“I tell him I’m going to get him one ‘Grade A’ per game. The more he shoots it, the better off we’re going to be,” Nevers said, with a grin. “We’re having a blast.”

As much as he learned watching from the stands as a rookie, the view from ice level for Mason Nevers as a junior is significantly better.

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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