Back in his home state, Ben Meyers has a special night in Avalanche regular season finale
Playing at Xcel Energy Center for the first time since he was a Delano high schooler five years ago, Colorado Avalanche rookie forward Ben Meyers had his own cheering section of former Gophers teammates in his return to Minnesota.
ST. PAUL — The shy smile was familiar, even if the dark blue hoodie looked out of place on Ben Meyers. The former Minnesota Gophers captain looked comfortable at a podium across the hall from the Colorado Avalanche locker room and smiled as he talked about his new life, playing hockey for a paycheck.
Less than a month earlier, Meyers, 23, had played a college hockey game at the Frozen Four for the Gophers, then elected to forgo his remaining college eligibility. He signed with Colorado a few days later, after numerous NHL teams — including the hometown Minnesota Wild – expressed interest in the talented free agent.
“It’s a hard decision, but at the end of the day it’s a hard decision to sign with any team,” Meyers said on Friday, as he prepared to play in his fifth NHL game. “I just kind of went with my gut and felt like it was the best opportunity for me to continue to develop.”
Colorado will enter the playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference, and is among the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup. Although one way or another, Friday would be Meyers’ final game of the season. Because he was a free agent and signed a contract after the NHL trade deadline had passed, he cannot skate in the playoffs. Meyers is fine with being a spectator, for now, as the Avalanche hope to play well into June.
“It’s unusual because they can’t really have plans for me to play in the playoffs,” he said. “It’s unusual but I think everybody knows what’s going on and it’s all worked out well. I’ve had a great experience.”
Meyers had been in the lineup for four of the eight games Colorado had played since signing him. The highlight, prior to Friday’s Minnesota homecoming, was most certainly his NHL debut. On April 16, in a home game against the Carolina Hurricanes, Meyers not only donned the burgundy and blue sweater for the first time, but capped off his debut with his first NHL goal in a 7-4 Colorado win.
“Just playing in your first game is an incredible experience and to score that first goal, you can’t script it too much better than that,” Meyers said. “You can’t even describe that feeling. Something you think about your whole life and then it comes true. It’s tough to put into words.”
It’s frankly not easy to put this season into words when one looks back on all that has transpired for Meyers since he put on a Gophers sweater with a captain’s C on it last fall. He led the team offensively despite missing five games while he went to China to skate for Team USA at the Winter Olympics. Upon returning he was the catalyst as the Gophers won the Big Ten title and was named the conference’s player of the year.
In the NCAA playoffs, Meyers scored the overtime winner versus UMass in round one and set up two of his team’s three goals in a regional final win over Western Michigan, sending Minnesota back to the Frozen Four for the first time since 2014. In Boston the team went one-and-done, but Meyers was one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award before returning to his home state to field NHL contract offers.
Friday’s game was his first at Xcel Energy Center since the Class A Minnesota State Hockey Tournament opener in 2017, when Meyers’ and his second-seed Delano High School teammates were upset by Monticello in round one. This time, when he came out on the ice for warmups, a dozen former Gophers teammates were pressed up against the glass in the corner of the rink, cheering his every move.
Colorado’s playoff position was set, so the Avalanche rested several regulars and started Meyers at left wing. By contrast, it was a game that the Wild needed to win for home ice in the opening playoff round versus St. Louis, but even the Minnesotans who routinely cheer for the green and red team were hoping for a kind of split decision on the ice.
“It’s unbelievable. He deserves every second of it, but getting to watch him do his thing at the X, there’s nothing really better than that,” said Gophers forward Mason Nevers. “We’re hoping that the Wild can get one point to get home ice, but hopefully a Benny Meyers OT goal or something.”
Alas, the on-ice heroics were not part of the script on this night. The Avalanche fell behind early. The Wild clinched home ice. Arena announcer Adam Abrams said Meyers’ name just twice – for the starting lineup, and when the rookie went to the penalty box to serve a five-minute major called on defenseman Kurtis MacDermid.
With those dark clouds in the past, Meyers got on a plane bound for Denver, where they average 245 sunny days per year. He said that has been the best part of his brief time in Colorado thus far – the weather. But his brief time back in Minnesota was pretty cool too.
“Just to come into this building, being here before, and this is my hometown, so it’s definitely special,” Meyers said.