Leafs' Knies details wild week after "devastating" end to college career
Toronto Maple Leafs forward Matthew Knies made his NHL debut last night, a game that, on the surface, went about as well as he could’ve hoped.
Sure, it wasn’t the four-goal fairytale career opener that Auston Matthews had back in 2016, but it still was a 2-1 overtime victory over the Florida Panthers in which Knies got his feet wet with 13:09 of ice time.
But Knies admitted it hasn’t exactly been the easiest week emotionally after his college career came to a crushing end.
Knies’ Minnesota Golden Gophers side fell 3-2 in the NCAA Men’s Frozen Four championship game on Saturday night to Quinnipiac in overtime, ending his college career after three seasons.
Just a day later, Knies officially signed his entry-level contract with the Leafs.
“It was devastating to be on the flight [to join the Leafs], but nice that I could say goodbye and wish them the best of luck next season,” Knies told reporters postgame.
Knies, a 2021 second-round pick, was named the 2022-23 Big Ten Conference Player of the Year and an All-Big Ten First Team honouree after leading the nation with seven game-winning goals — including three in overtime and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as one of college hockey’s top players.
“It’s hard to put that behind me. This was a good thing that I needed,” Knies said of joining the Leafs. “Get that joy back in because, obviously, it was a devastating loss back in the Frozen Four. It was pretty heartbreaking having to say goodbye to those guys, then show up and be the new guy here.”
Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe echoed Knies’ emotional rollercoaster.
“Listen, it hasn’t been easy for him in terms of what he has been through with not just the devastating loss they had after such a long season but the turnaround he had to get here,” Keefe told reporters. “When I went to go talk to him before warmup, he was still talking to doctors and going through all the medical stuff that they have to do.”
As Knies was still in university during training camp, he was unable to get his NHL medical clearance until joining the team.
“You can’t just show up and play in the NHL. There are a lot of hoops to jump through and clear in terms of the medical process,” Keefe added. “He had to go through all of that stuff here today, and he had to travel a good distance to get it done as well. It is not an easy day for him both today and yesterday.”
The Leafs — and presumably, Knies — have two games left in their regular season, with games tonight and Thursday on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers before the playoffs kick off next week.
Only time will tell if the new kid ends up cracking the playoff roster.
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