The Road Less Traveled

Nate Knoepke Continues To Develop And Build An Impressive Resume On The UNO Blueline

Sometimes the best path to the top is the road less traveled. Nate Knoepke hopes the lessons he’s learned from his struggles along the way will pay off in the long run.


Since leaving his Burnsville, Minn., home, the 21-year-old defenseman has made stops at two junior programs, two NCAA Div. I schools and one season of high school hockey.


Like many young hockey players growing up in the State of Hockey, Knoepke was a diehard fan of the Minnesota Gophers. From an early age he set his sights on wearing the maroon and gold and playing in front of his home state fans.


“Looking back on it, it was a little obsessive, but especially being in the Metro where I grew up, everyone plays hockey and everyone has someone in their family growing up that plays hockey that they look up to,” Knoepke said. “It’s pretty cool since the game is still growing now.”


After a season playing for Lakeville South High School, he was selected to USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program. The two years spent wearing the red, white and blue not only helped him develop into the player he is today but created friendships that remain to this day.


“You’re complete strangers going in and by the time the two years are up, the bond is just crazy,” he said. “I’m still best friends with a good number of guys from that team and we still talk all the time. Just going through the same thing together really brings you close and it’s pretty awesome.”


Upon exiting the USA Hockey program, Knoepke joined the elite group of players who have come through and finished with a gold medal in hand at the 2017 IIHF Men’s Under-18 World Championships, becoming his most memorable time with the program.


“Winning the U-18 World Championships by far,” said Knoepke, who pitched in with three assists in seven games. “That again was like the whole two-years you’re with the same guys and that’s the end goal. It was just crazy and an awesome experience.”


His years following the USA Hockey program were anything but traditional. Buoyed by his success at the NTDP, Knoepke lived out his dream of playing for the Gophers. Well, sort of. His freshman year at the U yielded limited opportunity and ice time. After seeing action in only two games, Knoepke packed his hockey bags and joined the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League.


The year under the tutelage of head coach Luke Strand and the Musketeers staff gave Knoepke the confidence to return to the collegiate ranks, where he landed in Omaha, Nebraska.


With hopes of the upcoming season still up in the air, Knoepke is still preparing to return to UNO as a senior leader for the Mavericks.


The past two years of incredible experiences can undoubtably be attributed to the amazing coaching staff, under head coach Mike Gabinet, that has not only help Knoepke find his confidence, but a home on the ice.


“Coach Gabs is awesome,” Knoepke said. “You can tell he really loves the game and he is always trying to make us better and himself better. It’s the same with all of our coaches. They’re really passionate and great to play for.”


Sidney Binger is the 2019-21 Brian Fishman Intern.

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