By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski | February 3, 2022
Valley native Matthew Knies was sitting alone in a restaurant when he received a call that changed his life.
He was chosen for the U.S. Olympic hockey team.
“I got a call from a random number and had a pretty exciting phone call asking if I wanted to go,” Knies says. “It was a pretty surreal moment I’ll never forget.”
The Olympic Games Beijing 2022 runs from Friday, February 4, to Sunday, February 20, with hockey starting Wednesday, February 9.
Knies says his parents, Miro and Michaela Knies, were thrilled about the opportunity.
“They couldn’t believe it,” says Knies, who played for Team USA in the World Juniors. “They were in awe for a while until it set in with them, too. They were extremely happy for me. I could hear the emotion through the phone. To have another shot playing for Team USA and playing for a medal is amazing.
“It’s pretty special to play something that’s much bigger than myself. Playing for those colors, it’s pretty surreal. It’s definitely a wonderful feeling.”
Knies grew up in the Valley, attending the Deer Valley Unified School District facilities Las Brisas Elementary and Hillcrest Middle schools in Glendale and Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix. Due to his U.S. Hockey League career, he graduated from an online high school in Nebraska.
From there, Knies was the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 25th pick in the 2021 draft, joining the team that also boasts Scottsdale’s Auston Matthews.
After ASU showed interest in him, Knies headed east to the University of Minnesota, where he’s a freshman forward turned Olympic qualifier. He’s joining fellow Gophers Brock Faber and Ben Meyers in the Olympics.
“I’m really excited,” Knies says. “It’s going to be a wonderful time and a really good experience. I’m super excited. I kept (the opportunity) in the back of my head. I wasn’t thinking too much about it. I was focusing on hockey here. Once I got that call, it didn’t sink in for a while. I still don’t think it has.”
Knies is well aware of the coronavirus situation in Beijing, but he’s not worried.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he says. “Not many kids get this chance. I’m definitely going to take it, no matter the consequences.
“But this is the biggest competition in the world. They’re going to do everything in their power to make sure everyone stays healthy.”
Youth hockey in Arizona
The 6-foot-2, 210-pound forward started his career in 2015 with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes and continued with the likes of the Tri-City Storm in Kearney, Nebraska.
During that time, he watched the sport grow in the Grand Canyon State.
“It’s still growing,” he adds. “It’s only gotten better, and it’s rapid. Everyone’s picking up hockey sticks. The Coyotes had a huge impact on me, and this opportunity for me to represent Arizona hockey at the Olympics is going to be huge.
“I want everyone to know in Arizona hockey that I’m representing them. I want to do it in the best way possible.”
His mentors have included former Arizona Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who now serves as chief development officer. Knies says he feels fortunate to have “all those guys in my corner.”
“I know the coaches I had in Arizona and here in college are huge parts of why I’m having success,” he says. “They’re involved in my career. Those guys have been a huge impact on me.
“Having these guys around the rink when I was younger — Steve Sullivan, Shane Doan and Mike D’Angelo — had a huge impact on me. They supported me through it and taught me the game the right way. I can’t thank them enough for how much they’ve given me.”
Longtime friend and Doan’s son, Josh, congratulated Knies on his Olympic nod.
“He’s been my best friend since I can remember,” he says. “He’s really happy for me, and I think he’s going to have a shot at it at the next Olympics.”
Knies sees the Olympics as a learning experience, as some of the other players have NHL experience. Current pro players are not allowed to participate in the games due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have older guys with experience in NHL or experience in Europe,” he says. “That’s the most exciting thing for me as a younger player. I can pick their brains and be around pro athletes.
“That’s going to help me a lot — how they live their life, how well they eat, how they sleep. That’s going to be huge for me later in my career. Having those veterans who have that experience is something I’m looking forward to seeing and taking note on.”
In the meantime, Knies is ready for the Olympics and the University of Minnesota Gophers.
“I’m a Gopher, and I want to do as much as I can for this program,” he says. “There are a lot of guys who deserve to win and be at the highest level. I’m just trying to savor the moment.”