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UMD men's hockey: Bulldogs captain Cates invited to play for Team USA at 2022 Winter Olympics

Minnesota Duluth senior captain and wing Noah Cates is among the handfuls of college players reportedly being asked to suit up for the United States at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing next month.

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Minnesota forward Matthew Knies (89) and Minnesota Duluth forward Noah Cates (21) chase the puck during the second period on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, at Amsoil Arena in Duluth. Cates has been invited to join the U.S. Olympic Men's Hockey Team for the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, China. Knies has also reportedly received an invitation. If he accepts, Cates will be gone for the Bulldogs for the month of February. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Minnesota Duluth senior wing and captain Noah Cates was well aware of the speculation circulating about his candidacy for the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team over the last few weeks, ever since the NHL announced it was pulling its players out of the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing, China.

But he brushed off that speculation, never believing it would become a possibility until this week when he received an invite from USA Hockey to play in the Olympics. Cates said it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that he plans on taking, and that he’s really looking forward to the Winter Games in February.

“Being pretty young and in college, to think about the Olympics, it’s not really on your radar,” said Cates, a 2017 fifth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers. “But for the opportunity to come up — like I said — you can't miss it. You got to take this opportunity. Hopefully, we have a good team that can win a medal.”

USA Hockey has yet to announce the men’s Olympic hockey team yet. Other players reportedly invited include North Dakota’s Jake Sanderson, a trio of Minnesota Golden Gophers — Matthew Knies, Ben Meyers and Brock Faber — and Minnesota State’s Nathan Smith.

Frank Seravalli tweet

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Cates, of Stillwater, Minnesota, turns 23 on Feb. 5. He had the opportunity to sign with the Flyers in the offseason — like his older brother, Jackson, did as an undrafted free agent — but instead decided to return to Duluth to captain the Bulldogs for a second-straight season.

Playing center instead of his natural position of wing, Cates posted five goals and 14 assists in 28 games last season. Back on the wing this year, he’s recorded six goals and eight assists in 20 games to share the team-high of 14 points with sophomore wing Blake Biondi.

The 2022 Olympics would be Cates’ second time wearing the red, white and blue of the United States after winning a silver medal with Team USA at the 2019 World Junior Championship in Victoria and Vancouver, British Columbia.

While the 2022 World Junior Championship in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alberta, had its issues with COVID-19, Cates said his previous experience with Team USA at the 2019 World Juniors gives him confidence that the 2022 Olympics will be a professional event.

“It's the Olympics, it's the pinnacle,” Cates said. “I know how well we will be treated and how professionally COVID and other concerns will be taken — really no concerns for me with any of that stuff. I’m just excited to get there and hopefully everything works out well for all the players and we can play.”

Cates said he would depart for Los Angeles and then Beijing in late January, after the Bulldogs’ scheduled NCHC series against Western Michigan at Amsoil Arena. The 2022 Olympics get underway on Feb. 3, however, the U.S. doesn’t begin preliminary round play until Feb. 10 against China. Knockout rounds begin Feb. 15 with the gold medal game scheduled for Feb. 20.

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The Bulldogs currently have four games scheduled during the Olympics — two at Denver and two at home against North Dakota — though makeup dates against St. Cloud State have not been announced following the postponement of this weekend’s series due to COVID-19.

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Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin said he spoke with John Vanbiesbrouck, general manager of the U.S. Olympic men’s team, this week about the Olympics, including the quarantine protocols in case a player would test positive for COVID-19 while in Beijing. Sandelin said not to believe everything that came out around the time the NHL backed out of the Olympics.
While losing a player like Cates for the month of February will be tough, Sandelin said he feels good about his captain representing the U.S. and UMD in Beijing.

“It’s great,” Sandelin said. “He’s certainly deserving.”

Former Boston University and New York Rangers coach David Quinn will coach the U.S. at the Olympics. He’ll be assisted by St. Cloud State coach Brett Larson — the former UMD Bulldog and Duluth Denfeld Hunter — and Minnesota State coach Mike Hastings.

Other assistants include Pittsburgh Penguins director of player development Scott Young, USA Hockey national goaltending coach David Lassonde and Penn State video coach Alex Dawes.

Cates played for both Larson and Hastings at the 2019 World Juniors, and they both recruited him. Larson won that recruiting battle, then as an assistant coach under Sandelin at UMD, but left for the Huskies the offseason before Cates came to UMD.

Sandelin said it’s a solid staff leading Team USA at the Olympics.

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“It’s a great staff,” said Sandelin, whose son, Ryan, plays for Hastings at Minnesota State. “They’ll work well together. It will be good."

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St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson talks to reporters during NCHC media day on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2021, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Larson, a Duluth Denfeld graduate who played and coached at Minnesota Duluth, will be an assistant coach on the U.S. Olympic Men's Hockey Team. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune
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Co-host of the Bulldog Insider Podcast and college hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune and The Rink Live covering the Minnesota Duluth men's and women's hockey programs.
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