Jr. Coyotes continue to be at forefront of developing Arizona players for college, NHL
Over the years, the Jr. Coyotes have emerged as not only the top junior and college talent provider in all of Arizona, but in recent years, in all of the southwestern United States.
This season, three former players are being touted as NHL-caliber hockey players and the trio also took part in last month’s BioSteel All-American Game in Plymouth, Mich., in front of NHL scouts and general managers.
For Josh Doan (Chicago Steel), Matt Knies (Tri-City Storm) and Red Savage (USA Hockey’s NTDP), all playing Tier I junior hockey this season in the United States Hockey League, seeing their years-long efforts paying off has been a long time coming.
“The BioSteel game was an amazing experience that gave me the opportunity to play with some of the best American draft-eligible players and to get to know them better,” said Doan, who will head to play NCAA Division I hockey at Arizona State University in the fall. “Having the Jr. Coyotes players in the game, I think it just shows how much the game has grown, along with how well the Jr. Coyotes organization has done with development of their players. That’s an organization that’s going to give you their best whenever you play them at any age group now.”
Knies, a University of Minnesota recruit, agreed with his longtime youth hockey teammate.
“It was an incredible experience to play with the best players in the country and on a national stage, and to be able to compete and play with some of the best players in my age group was very exciting,” said Knies. “For Arizona hockey having as many guys as we did at the game speaks a lot. It shows the growth of hockey and love for the sport. Josh Doan and myself always love representing the Jr. Coyotes and I think we’re only the start. The game and the Jr. Coyotes organization is always growing and it’s beginning to show.”
Skating his second season with the NTDP, Savage was on winning team in Plymouth as the U.S. National Under-18 Team toppled the USHL All-Stars 7-1.
“The All-American game was amazing to be a part of,” said Savage, off to Miami University this fall. “Having a chance to showcase your skills in front of such a large audience is a one-of-a-kind experience. I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to play and learn from the experiences throughout the game.
“The fact that there were players from the game that are from Arizona speaks on the growing market that is sprouting up in the desert. It’s amazing to see how much hockey has grown in the state of Arizona and it is a privilege to say that I was born and raised there.”
Playing in the USHL, widely considered the top junior hockey league in all of the United States, has done wonders for the Arizona products this season.
“One of the challenges I faced this year was a slow start,” admitted Doan. “I started out the season with two points and no goals in my first eight games. It got frustrating, but at the end of the day, I just had to refocus and get back to my game.”
“At the beginning of the season, I struggled to score and was off the scoresheet a lot,” added Knies. “As the season went on, it gradually got better and as of late, I’ve played some of my best hockey. I had to change my mindset and return to the basics. Having a positive and competitive mindset changed a lot for me, and I’ve been taking huge steps from the start of the season.”
Savage noted how the COVID-19 pandemic has altered the season a bit, but the fact that he’s been able to play pretty much a full season has been something to be grateful for.
“COVID-19 has definitely thrown some curveballs into our season this year, but our team has been lucky enough to get over 40 games in this season,” he said. “There are so many people that work behind the scenes at the NTDP that have made our season possible that don’t get thanked enough.”
All three players have grown up in hockey families, something that has been a major benefit to all the players. Shane Doan and Brian Savage all had distinguished NHL careers (both playing for the Arizona Coyotes at one point), something their sons hope to mirror, while Phil Knies wrapped up his NCAA career captaining Miami in 2020-21.
“It’s a ton of fun growing up in a hockey family,” said Savage. “It’s nice to have your dad and your brothers to be there for motivation and advice. We have a ton of family competition running through our family, so we are always pushing each other to get better.”
“Growing up in a hockey family taught me a lot,” Doan added. “Watching how hard my dad worked and the commitment he gave to the game to be the player he was is something I’ll never forget.”
Now, with the NHL Draft set for late July, all three Jr. Coyotes graduates could possibly see their NHL dreams get one step closer. Until then, it’s business as usual in the USHL before enjoying the summer.
“It has sunk in a little, but at the end of the day, I’m still focused on finishing the season strong here in Chicago and then what happens happens this summer,” said Doan. “After the season, I’ll head back to Arizona and train with some friends for a bit and then I’ll move into ASU and start working with them.”
Knies is trying not to focus on the draft.
“Not much about the draft has sunk in,” said Knies. “It seems far away to me and I have to keep taking strides to get my name called. I’m working for that opportunity constantly, trying to keep my mind away from it and focusing on practice and my play.
“During the summer, I’ll spend a few weeks at the University of Minnesota training and taking a class of two to get ahead, but other than that, enjoying time with my older brother Phil, family and friends, and maybe getting in some rounds of golf.”
For Savage, he’s pumped about possibly being part of the 2021 NHL draft class.
“It’s a dream come true to be able to talk to NHL teams and to be considered in the upcoming draft,” he said. “My family and friends have invested a thankless amount of time into my well-being, and I wouldn’t be here without them.
“I plan on working out and skating at the USA Hockey Arena with GVN Performance. Our strength coach Brian Galivan has been with me for the past two years at NTDP, and I plan on using him for years to come. I hope to go see my family in Sudbury (Ont.) this summer, but it is all dependent on how the borders will be by summertime.”
Late July will certainly be an exciting time for Arizona hockey, and the Jr. Coyotes will be the rightful recipients of starting, developing, continuing, and growing that trend.
Doan photo/Chicago Steel; Knies photo/Tri-City Storm; Savage photo/Rena Laverty/USA Hockey
— Matt Mackinder
(May 4, 2021)