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Back in Florida with the Maple Leafs, Matthew Knies is getting a crash course in NHL life

From Tampa to Minneapolis to Miami back to Tampa and then on to New York City in a span of four days, Big Ten most valuable player Matthew Knies is learning the fast way about the grind of NHL life.

Former Minnesota Gophers star Matthew Knies faced a scrum of reporters after posting his first NHL assist in a 4-3 Toronto Maple Leafs win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday, April 11, 2023 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Fla.
Jess Myers / The Rink Live

TAMPA, Fla. — When you live in a nontraditional hockey area like Arizona and your child has a knack for the game, extensive travel to watch games and attend camps is a part of your world. But after more than a decade of chasing his son Matthew from rink to rink, even a veteran of the planes, trains and automobiles like Miro Knies was thrown a new challenge in the post-Frozen Four whirlwind.

The Knies family — Miro and Michaela plus their older son Phil and the boys’ Slovakian grandmother — along with Matthew’s girlfriend Ella (a member of the Minnesota Gophers women’s hockey team) and Matthew’s agent found themselves in the pitch black of Florida’s famed Alligator Alley in the middle of the night, in a pouring rainstorm just hours after watching Matthew make his NHL debut for the Toronto Maple Leafs versus the Florida Panthers.

Between Saturday night, when Matthew’s final game as a Minnesota Gophers ended in heartbreak with an overtime loss to Quinnipiac in the NCAA title game in Tampa, and Tuesday night when the family was back at Amalie Arena to see Matthew’s second NHL game versus the Tampa Bay Lightning, the family had seen the better part of the Sunshine State via a luxury van provided by Matthew’s new employer.

Meanwhile, Matthew had been racking up frequent flier miles as he traveled back to Minnesota with the Gophers following the title game loss. That trip provided some brief hope for Minnesota fans that he might opt for one more season in college, but it was not to be. Matthew spent roughly 14 hours in the State of Hockey while grabbing a change of clothes and signing the documents needed to officially become a professional hockey player before hopping on a Sunday evening flight to South Florida to join the Maple Leafs for real.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers
Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Matthew Knies (23) looks on during the first period Monday, April 10, 2023 against the Florida Panthers at FLA Live Arena.
Sam Navarro / USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

He recorded his first NHL assist versus the Lightning on Tuesday night (the public address person in Tampa called him “Matthew Knees” when announcing Toronto’s eventual winning goal). Afterward, surrounded by a throng of media that will be a fact of his life playing for a high-profile team like Toronto, Knies admitted that staying in Florida following the NCAA title loss was an option, but it would not have been the right thing to do.


“At that moment, with those guys, I thought it was best for me to be around them,” Knies said, of the shocking end to his college career. “It was obviously a devastating loss, so I just wanted to spend as much time as I could with all of them.”

With his new teammates in blue and white, Knies is fitting in right away. He started versus the Lightning and was less than an inch from his first pro goal, only to be “helped” by a teammate. After a turnover behind Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, Leafs forward William Nyander fed the puck to Knies who was in front of the net. Vasilevskiy got a piece of the rookie’s quick shot, but the puck bounced on the goal line and was about to slip across when Leafs forward Ryan O’Reilly swatted the puck in.

“I honestly thought it hit the back of the net and came back out, but I’m happy to just get on the board,” Knies said in the postgame scrum. “O’Reilly batted that in. He was apologizing to me but it was a good play.”

Knies comes from a Gophers program with a hungry fanbase after falling just short of Minnesota’ first national title in 20 years. He joins the Maple Leafs — arguably the highest-profile team in the NHL — as they seek their first Stanley Cup since 1967. Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas is under intense pressure from the fans and the media in Canada just to get the Leafs past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. To show how committed he was to getting Knies in the fold after drafting him in the second round in 2021, some have joked that Dubas attended more Gophers games than the Knies family this season, and finally got his prized prospect wrapped up in the hours following Saturday’s final Gophers game.

The duo coached together at Hamline for six seasons and under Brad Frost with the Minnesota Gophers for a season. They take over a Pioneers program that was among Minnesota's best in 2022-23.
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.

So after his whirlwind tour of Florida, Knies was looking ahead to a day off on Wednesday. The Leafs flew to New York City following the Lightning game, and will face the Rangers on Thursday to close the regular season. His parents will be there, taking in as much of their son’s early career as they can, even if it means more travel adventures. When he finally gets to Toronto, the Leafs plan to pair Knies with a veteran player to show him the ropes of life as a pro in the microscope of Canada’s largest city. Toronto’s star player is Auston Matthews, who grew up in Arizona and learned the game in the desert, just like Knies. The team will also provide a hotel suite near the rink as temporary living quarters.

Next week Knies will make his NHL playoffs debut, and a first-round series versus the Lightning is on deck, which will mean more trips to Amalie Arena, and the bad memories of his final game in maroon and gold that now accompany visits to the Tampa waterfront.

“I don’t like this rink, to be honest with you,” he said with a grin. “It kind of stinks after what happened here. But I’m excited to be a part of this team and to show up here and grab the win.”


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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