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Rinkytown blog: Trio of Gophers headed to Finland for World Championships

Ben Meyers' year of world traveling will continue, as he and two other former Gophers have been named to Team USA. Also: a quartet of Gophers could go in round one of the NHL Draft, fond memories of Adam Nightingale in Minnesota, and a probable landing spot for Jack Perbix.

Ben Meyers of Team USA in action against Canada
Ben Meyers of Team USA in action with Mason Mctavish of Canada during a preliminary round game Feb. 12, 2022, during the 2022 Beijing Olympics.
David W Cerny / Reuters

The whirlwind of air travel and stick 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 latest significant trip for Meyers, who skated for Team USA in the Winter Olympics in China in February, flew to Boston for the Frozen Four, then to Denver to start his NHL career with the Colorado Avalanche, among other destinations.

Meyers, along with defenseman Nate Schmidt and forward Vinni Lettieri, will wear the red, white and blue in the tournament, which runs May 13-29 with games in Tampere and Helsinki, Finland.

The Americans will compete in Group B alongside France, the Czech Republic, Finland, Great Britain, Latvia, Norway and Sweden. USA brought home the bronze medal last season.

After winning the Big Ten’s 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. Assisting Quinn, who also coached Team USA in the Winter Olympics, will be former Detroit Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill, current Buffalo Sabres coach Don Granato and Minnesota State University-Mankato head coach Mike Hastings.

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NHL: St. Louis Blues at Anaheim Ducks
Anaheim Ducks center Vinni Lettieri (28) passes the puck against St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (55) during the first period on April 24, 2022, at Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. Lettieri, a former University of Minnesota forward, will play for Team USA in the 2022 IIHF World Championships.
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports

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.

NHL: Colorado Avalanche at Winnipeg Jets
Winnipeg Jets defenseman Nate Schmidt (left) watches a rebound off Winnipeg Jets goaltender Connor Hellebuyck (37) against the Colorado Avalanche in the first period on April 8, 2022, at Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Schmidt, a former University of Minnesota All-American, will play for Team USA in the 2022 IIHF World Championships.
James Carey Lauder/USA TODAY Sports

Schmidt, 30, has played more than 500 games in the NHL and recently concluded his first season with the Winnipeg Jets, recording four goals and 28 assists in 77 games.

Other Minnesotans named to the Americans’ roster include former Minnesota Duluth forward Karson Kuhlman, from Esko, and former Boston University forward Kieffer Bellows, from Edina. Former Michigan goalie Strauss Mann, who was a Fargo Force star before moving on to college hockey, was one of three goalies named to the team.

Jimmy Snuggerud.jpg
Forward Jimmy Snuggerud, who committed to the Gophers while skating in USA Hockey's National Team Development Program for the 2021-22 season, is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft in July.
Contributed / USA Hockey

Potential history-making draft night for Gophers

While it will be hard to top Michigan’s 2021 NHL Draft, when four Wolverines were selected with the first five picks, the Gophers could have a notable draft night in July, if the NHL Central Scouting rankings are accurate.

The final list of prospects released before the draft, which will be held July 7-8 at the Bell Centre in Montreal, includes a quartet of future Gophers pegged as potential first-rounders. Most notable on that list is incoming forward Logan Cooley, who is ranked second among North American skaters and will likely be off the board by the time the draft’s fourth overall pick is announced.

Also listed among potential first-rounders are forward Jimmy Snuggerud, defenseman Ryan Chesley and defenseman Sam Rinzel. Chesley and Snuggerud have signed national letters of intent and are expected to be on the Gophers’ 2022-23 roster, while Rinzel recently completed his final season of prep hockey and is expected to join the Gophers in 2023-24, after a full season in the USHL.

Future Gophers defenseman Luke Mittelstadt is listed 168th and future Gophers forward Connor Kurth is 209th on the list. Forward Cruz Lucius, who recently decommitted from the Gophers, is listed 41st and projected as a potential second round pick.

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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 selection in the NHL Draft.

USA NTDP U18 vs MSU
After coaching Team USA to a silver medal at the U18 World Championships in Germany, Adam Nightingale was named the new head hockey coach at Michigan State on May 3, 2022.
Rena Laverty / USA Hockey

Praise for Nightingale from his time in Minnesota

Early in his coaching career, Adam Nightingale spent two seasons in southern Minnesota, coaching bantams at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. It was his first time running his own team after time spent as a player and as an assistant.

Based on that experience, folks at Shattuck who worked with Nightingale, now 42, say that Michigan State made the perfect choice when the Spartans named him their next head hockey coach.

“I’ve been around 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 into it. We try to teach kids the right way to play the game, and he wants the same. So he was a perfect fit here.”

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Ward stressed Nightingale’s roots in small town Michigan, with a father who was in law enforcement and a mother who was a school teacher. Those working-class traits were reflected in the way he coached Shattuck, and Ward sees much 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 who teaches kids the right way to play, and he will work his ass off there.”

Notre Dame vs Minnesota
Minnesota forward Jack Perbix and Notre Dame's Cam Burke tied each other up in the first period of a game between the Gophers and Irish on Saturday, Jan. 29, 2022 at Compton Family Ice Arena in South Bend, Ind.
Brad Rempel / University of Minnesota Athletics

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Perbix likely headed east, to Western

Nothing official had been announced as of Thursday afternoon, but sources have indicated to 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 seasons of college eligibility remaining. His brother, Nick, played in the NCHC at St. Cloud State, so there is some familiarity with the conference among the Perbix family.

It was a breakout season for the Broncos under first-year head coach Pat Ferschweiler, a native of Rochester, Minn. 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 falling 3-0 to the Gophers in the regional title game.

In 38 games with the Gophers last season, Perbix had five goals and seven assists for 12 points — all of which were career bests.

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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