The U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team includes 15 college players

Matty Beniers called his parents to ask them to fulfill a Group FaceTime request so he could deliver some big news.

Of course, that’s how the 19-year-old would tell his loved ones he’s going to the Olympics.

Beniers was one of 15 college players named Thursday to the U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Squad, a significant increase from 2018, when the NHL also opted out. All 25 players named to the team came through the college ranks.

“That says a lot about the quality of college hockey and not just one league: it’s pretty much in three or four different leagues,” said Beniers, the Seattle Kraken’s second pick in the 2021 draft. “There are a lot of great players and college hockey is really good. I think it sometimes goes unnoticed. It’s tough, it’s big, it’s fast, it’s tough and I think it prepares you well for the next level.

Beniers, Michigan teammate Brendan Brisson and Pick #5 2020 Jake Sanderson of the Ottawa Senators are the headliners of the American roster’s college players, who general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said weren’t destined to form the future.

USA Hockey believed going the college-heavy route gave it the best chance of medaling at the Olympics for the first time since 2010. Neither player was within half a decade of birth last time that the United States won Olympic gold in 1980.

“We are very lucky to have good young players,” Vanbiesbrouck said. “It’s for the here and now. Not once did we think about the distant future.

The United States was much younger than four years ago when Troy Terry, Ryan Donato, Jordan Greenway and Will Borgen were the only college players on a squad of mostly older professionals playing in Europe. Donato led the United States in goals, Terry in assists, Greenway was one of the best players in the tournament and their contributions raised the level of confidence this time around to rely on more college players .

“It took that hesitation away,” said Scott Young, who is back as an assistant, this time under coach David Quinn. “We weren’t afraid to be young. We weren’t afraid to be young and hungry.

This includes net. Recent Michigan grad Strauss Mann, who plays in the Swedish Hockey League, is expected to be the starter.

“It’s kind of a brick wall there,” Beniers said. “He’s a smaller keeper, but he’s quick and hard to score at the top.

Strauss is joined by Boston University’s Drew Commesso, who was goalie for the United States at the world junior championship, which was canceled four days later.

Sanderson, Beniers and University of Minnesota defenseman Brock Faber are the other junior world championship players who have been named to the team. Other college players are Nick Abruzzese and Sean Farrell from Harvard, Ben Meyers and Matthew Knies from Minnesota, Nathan Smith from Minnesota State, Noah Cates from Minnesota-Duluth, Marc McLaughlin and Drew Helleson from Boston College and Sam Hentges and Nick Perbix of St. Cloud State.

“Not everyone can be selected to go and play in the Olympics,” said Smith, a native of Tampa, Fla., who leads the NCAA in scoring. “All kids dream of going to the Olympics, so it’s a bit of a dream come true. It’s a bit difficult to understand my head yet.

Forwards Brian O’Neill, Kenny Agostino, Andy Miele and Nick Shore as well as defensemen Steven Kampfer, Aaron Ness and David Warsofsky are the American players with NHL experience.

“We have good players everywhere, whether it’s in the NHL or at the college level,” Sanderson said earlier this week. “I’m super excited to play with these guys, having just played against (a lot of them) in college. We just have to go out there, do our best and expect the best.

USA Hockey executives and coaches knew they needed older players to handle the drudgery of Tournament, which starts on February 9 and ends on February 20. The United States opens against China on February 10.

“We think we have enough strength and enough men to balance that out,” Young said. “You don’t want to go too much in one direction anyway, but we think we’re going to be fast, we think we’re going to be able to put pressure on teams and play really fast and we think we have a lot of talent. When the matches are getting a bit bigger, stronger, tougher, we have big, strong guys too.

O’Neill is the only returnee from the 2018 squad, which lost to the Czech Republic in the quarter-finals. Rounding out the American roster are defenseman Brian Cooper, who plays in Sweden, and goaltender Pat Nagle, who plays in the American Hockey League with Lehigh Valley.

“It’s kind of like starting a band: you don’t choose five lead singers when you start a band,” Quinn said. “We were obviously a little more aware of maybe getting a little younger, but we wanted to take the best team possible to compete for a gold medal. When we looked at the pool of players that were available to us, we thought that skill, speed, pace, tempo was going to be our team’s strength.

KREJCI FOR CZECH

Longtime Boston Bruins center David Krejci is the headliner for the Czech roster, which also includes former NHL forwards Michael Frolik, Tomas Hyka, Vladimir Sobotka, Roman Cervenka, Lukas Sedlak and Michal Repik as well as defenders Jakub Jerabek, Tomas Kundratek and Libor Sulak.

Krejci, 35, played 1,088 games with the Bruins over the previous 15 NHL seasons and decided to return to his native country to play in front of his friends and family. He is one of four players in the Czech Extraliga squad, while 12 come from the Russia-based Continental Hockey League.

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