UMD men's hockey: Olympics a 'surreal' experience for Cates, who would gladly play for Team USA again
Bulldogs captain Noah Cates recaps his experience playing for the United States at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing
DULUTH — When Tuesday night’s NCHC contest at St. Cloud State went into a shootout following a 1-1 overtime tie, Minnesota Duluth senior captain Noah Cates asked coach Scott Sandelin if he could take the first shot.
A week earlier, Cates was involved in another shootout on the opposite side of the globe, serving as an alternate captain on the U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team against Slovakia in a do-or-die Olympic quarterfinal in Beijing.
Cates' number was never called by coach David Quinn and the United States lost the game 3-2 after going 0-for-4 in the shootout. Cates said he wasn’t going to stand by and watch another shootout from the bench. He scored in Round 1 for the Bulldogs, sophomore wing Quinn Olson scored in Round 2 and junior goaltender Ryan Fanti made a save in Round 3 to give UMD a critical extra point in the NCHC standings.
Cates said the move he used Tuesday against Huskies goaltender David Hrenak — a native of Slovakia — was what he would have used in the shootout in Beijing.
“I really wanted to go against Slovakia that game,” Cates said after Tuesday’s game. “I had that in my mind. I just wanted to take it and get us a good start.”
Cates, who finished with a goal in four games, returned from the 2022 Winter Games on Monday afternoon and after a quick stop at his parents' home in Stillwater, Minnesota, he rejoined the team for Tuesday’s game in St. Cloud. On Wednesday, he met with Duluth-area reporters — including Matt Wellens of the News Tribune and The Rink Live — to recap his Olympic experience.
How would you describe your experience at the Olympics?
It was super surreal just being around all the different athletes, different people, meeting a lot of different people from different countries. There were world class events that were put on with the opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies — the locker rooms, the games, everything. It was super special and a month I'll never forget.
What was it like to be at the opening and closing ceremonies, something you grew up watching on TV?
It was really special. I think the opening ceremonies was probably one of the coolest things I've ever done, just walking out with all the Olympic athletes, all United States athletes. I can't put it into words walking out there what I felt, but it was really cool. I was really happy I got to do it.
What allowed Team USA to gel so well in the preliminary round and have the success that you had?
We had a good good group of older guys and younger guys that bought in and we stuck to our identity. We found that pretty quickly and with how teams played against us and how we played, it just kind of matched up well. We had a lot of success in that preliminary round.
What did it mean to wear a letter for the U.S. in the Olympics, and was it a surprise to you?
Yeah, a little bit. It got mentioned that they wanted a younger guy. It’s just crazy to have that honor and have some guys look at me in a different way. To be recognized by the team, the coaches, as a leader was really, really cool and obviously something I'll never forget.
When they mentioned they wanted a younger guy in the leadership group, was there someone else’s name that initially popped into your head?
I kind of thought of (Matty) Beniers. He was at the World Championship earlier in the year and has done a lot of USA Hockey stuff. He's a good leader, but they went with me and I was obviously very happy and wanting to help the team in any way I could.
You and the other college players have all been part of these one-and-done tournaments before. You’ve had some pretty good success personally in them at UMD. What do you take out of that shootout loss to Slovakia?
It was kind of tough for us to find our game. They played a different way than we were used to in the preliminary rounds. Those teams were a little more physical on us, and we just tried to use our speed. We couldn’t find our game or stick to our identity and had some missed chances, different things like that. It's such a fine line and I’m kind of happy that (Slovakia) won bronze because they did have a really good team. For us not to play our best game and to go down to a shootout shows how good we were, but in a one-and-done situation like that tournament, that's how it goes.
What were some of the other things you got to experience away from the rink in Beijing?
Some of the other events were super cool, like big air. We watched curling and got to meet the Duluth guys. I’m trying to go curling with them pretty soon. Meeting all the different athletes and seeing a speed skating Olympic record, different things like that, you just won't forget it.
You mentioned on the Bulldog Insider Podcast you wanted to meet Shawn White. Did you meet him?
I did, yeah, at opening ceremonies. We got a picture with him, so that’s pretty cool.
Noah Cates (@UMDMensHockey) doubles the @usahockey lead! 🙌🇺🇸#NCHChockey // #BulldogCountry— The NCHC (@TheNCHC) February 10, 2022
📺: @USA_Network // #TeamUSApic.twitter.com/xA1d4Cz1Jm
What did you do with your time after the U.S. was eliminated? How were you able to use it?
A lot of the college guys got out of there, and I wanted to make it back to play against North Dakota, but ended up not getting on a flight. It was pretty hectic. I wish I could have gone back, but happy I stayed and got to experience some other events, meeting different people. The events and all that was was definitely once in a lifetime. It would have been nice to come back, maybe play or be a little bit more adjusted for this Tuesday game, but happy I stayed and experienced (the Olympics) and got to hang out with some of the older guys that stuck around.
Is there a sport you have a better appreciation for now having seen it in person?
Curling. Talking with some of the guys who have done it, it seems really hard. And the speed skating. They’re going for a couple of minutes around the track and their strides and everything are just crazy. It was cool to see all those different events. The skiing and snowboarding, just how they land, those tricks are crazy.
Would you do it again?
Yeah, for sure. Obviously a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, a great group to be around. It had its moments where it was long or got old, but being around the guys and going through it with them was super fun. Those memories and times with them was the best part about it.
Four years from now you’re hoping to be playing in the NHL. Should the Olympics go back to using NHL players or does this formula work? What are your thoughts on the future of men’s hockey in the Olympics?
I think you want to the best players in the world playing in it, and so obviously then the NHL’ers would have gone, but with COVID and all these different opportunities, I think it was the right right move to have younger guys go, or not have NHL players go for their season and whatnot. I think by the next Olympics, it'll be back to normal with the NHL season. I’m hoping they can go and hopefully we can watch some good hockey and maybe have a chance at that.
The NHL is your goal, but is now another Olympics also on your radar?
Yeah, for sure. It would be super special. At the closing ceremonies, they had a preview for the next Olympics in Italy, and it looked really cool. I'd have this experience and I think it'd be really fun, but it's a long way down the road and kind of the last thing on my mind, but definitely it would be cool.