Michigan's Beniers, Brisson highlight U.S. Olympic hockey team

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Matty Beniers knew it couldn't wait.

So when the mother of Michigan hockey's top center said she was "doing something" when he asked her to jump on a group video chat, he wouldn't take no for an answer.

"No, you need to answer this," he said.

Michigan forward Matt Beniers, right, carries the puck with Jack Becker at Yost Arena in Ann Arbor.

What followed was a celebration the Beniers family has waited a lifetime for: Matty had just been named to the U.S. Olympic hockey team.

"I told them all together, so it was a pretty cool experience," Beniers said. "They were all just going crazy like, 'Are you serious?'"

Beniers (Seattle Kraken) was one of four Michigan Wolverines past and present to earn that distinction Thursday. Current Michigan forward Brendan Brisson (Vegas Golden Knights) and ex-Wolverines Strauss Mann and Steven Kampfer both made the roster for Beijing.

"I'm just so honored, humbled and excited for this experience to play for the Olympic team," Beniers said. "You're a hockey player, you watch "Miracle," you watch the Olympics every time you get a chance. Being named to this team is just such an honor."

It's a new chance to shine on the world stage for Beniers, who won gold at the World Junior Championships with Team USA last January. He was looking for a repeat in this year's tournament before COVID complications caused a postponement. Beniers also competed at last summer's IIHF World Championship. 

Brisson and Beniers are Michigan's second- and third-ranked scorers. Brisson has 14 goals and 13 assists in 27 games; Beniers has 12 and 14 in 22 games.

Beniers is looking forward to playing with his Michigan teammate and the points that come with it.

"He's obviously got a great scoring touch," Beniers said of Brisson. "I've had a lot of fun playing with him this year, and he kind of does a little bit of everything. He's obviously a great scorer and has all that skill, but he really works hard and added that physical element into his game this year."

Team USA general manager John Vanbiesbrouck said that while a number of youthful players made the team, there was not an effort to go young. They simply are the best hockey players available for the mission they are trying to accomplish: Win gold.

"We're very fortunate to have good, young players," Vanbiesbrouck said. "This is for the here and now. Not once were we thinking of a distant future. We picked a path and core group that we wanted to go with that had the speed, the tenacity that can get us to a gold medal.

"Everything about this process is hard, and everything about what we're going to do is hard. There's nothing that's easy, and I think these young players were equipped to do that."

Mann, meanwhile, comes to Team USA with a little experience overseas under his belt.

He served as team captain while racking up a .930 save percentage and 1.89 goals against average during his senior season at Michigan (2020-21), and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award, given to the top player in NCAA hockey. He currently has a .930 save percentage and 1.77 GAA in 13 games with Skellefteå AIK of the Swedish Hockey League.

Beniers has had an up-close view of the impact Mann can have on a hockey game.

"He's kind of a brick wall back there," Beniers said. He's a smaller goalie, but he's quick and hard to score on up top. ... He's a nice guy having back there, especially a team like ours at Michigan. (We were) playing a lot of offense, (he was) making a lot of good saves for us."

Kampfer, also an Ann Arbor native, currently plays for Ak Bars Kazan of the Russian KHL.

Rounding out the players to make the roster with Michigan ties are forward Andy Miele (Grosse Pointe) and goaltender Pat Nagle (Bloomfield Hills).

Both spent time with the Grand Rapids Griffins in their playing career. Miele currently plays in the KHL. Nagle is with the Reading Royals of the ECHL.

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.