MINNEAPOLIS - When he followed coach Bob Motzko to the University of Minnesota a year ago, Gophers forward Nathan Burke may have started a pipeline.
Burke, who was raised in the small but active suburban Phoenix hockey community, and became the first Arizona native to skate for the Gophers last winter. He will have a colleague from the Valley of the Sun joining him in Minneapolis, likely in two years.
Matthew Knies, 16, a highly-recruited forward with the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes, announced his commitment to the Gophers this week. Currently in high school in Arizona, Knies is expected to play a season or two of junior hockey with Tri-City of the USHL or Wenatchee of the BCHL and join the U of M likely in the fall of 2021.
“I was also talking to North Dakota and Penn State, but in the end I think I chose Minnesota because I love the coaches and their style of play. With coach Motzko there, I trust him a lot and know it’s going to be a top program coming up, when I’m heading into college,” said Knies. “The coaching staff is really what pushed it, but the facilities are unbelievable. I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.”
At 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds as a 16-year-old, Knies is a physical presence on the ice, with the idea that he will be bigger and stronger by the time he gets to college hockey. He had 24 goals in 25 games for the Jr. Coyotes last season.
“He’s kind of hit the national stage the last few years. He shoots it like a man, and for a 16-year-old, he sees the ice really well,” said Mike DeAngelis, who is a former Minnesota Duluth defenseman and has coached Knies in the Jr. Coyotes program. “He’s big and strong, and he played with us this year at 16, when I expected he would be with the (USA Hockey) National team or something. He’s definitely one of the most impressive kids I’ve ever coached.”
Knies joked that he’s heard horror stories about that first Minnesota winter when you’re used to the sunshine of Arizona, but he expects to adjust. DeAngelis said having a sought-after player like this come out of Arizona is another step in the community’s development as a hockey hotbed.
“Obviously (Toronto Maple Leafs star) Auston Matthews came out of Arizona two years ago. It’s still a pretty small hockey community but there are some high-end kids coming through,” DeAngelis said. “Knies is the next one who is really, really nasty good. He’s got the whole package.”
Burke, who is from the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, originally committed to play for Motzko at St. Cloud State and then followed the coach to the U of M when Motzko switched jobs a year ago. Under NCAA rules, Motzko and the other Gophers coaches are not allowed to comment on Knies or other committed players until they have signed a national letter of intent.