Neal: Former Gopher Meyers seeing the world because of his hockey talents

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Fun fact about Finland: This country, with just 5.5 million residents total, has more than 2 million saunas, including one in a Burger King. As the USA men's hockey team participates in the IIHF World Championship this month in Helsinki and Tampere, it is exploring the area and learning about life there.

It's estimated that 99% of Finns hit the sauna at least once a week. Finland also is considered the world's happiest country, so maybe there is a direct correlation between sauna steam and being happy.

Forward Ben Meyers and his USA teammates are staying in Tampere, about 110 miles from the capital of Helsinki. Some have used the saunas and all will return home to impress their friends and family members with such minutiae.

"Beautiful country," Meyers said during a phone conversation following a recent practice. "Guys have had a fun time checking it out and seeing a new country. It's my first time in Europe and I'm just really glad I'm here."

Meyers, from Delano, Minn., has traveled the globe over the past several months. With COVID-19 on the decline, teams and fans at the World Championship can come and go as they please. This continues an excellent adventure for Meyers, who called 2022 "just a special year."

He was one of the key cogs on the Gophers team when he was named to the USA men's Olympic team after the NHL and the league's players union jointly decided not to participate. It was off to Beijing in January for Meyers, along with fellow Gophers Brock Faber and Matt Knies. That team lost to Slovakia in the quarterfinals. But China's zero-COVID strategy kept everyone at the Beijing Games from moving freely around the country.

Meyers returned from Beijing to finish his junior season with the Gophers, who reached the Frozen Four before losing to Minnesota State Mankato. Then Meyers had a decision to make. He was a free agent after the college season and in high demand. Several teams made offers, including the Wild. Meyers could have cracked the Wild roster next season as a fourth-liner but chose to sign with Colorado.

Not a bad choice, hooking on with the favorite to win the Stanley Cup. Learning from Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and others, although he is ineligible for the playoffs.

"It's a difficult spot to be in because there are a lot of teams that want you," said Meyers, who scored his first career NHL goal three minutes into his debut April 16. "You can only sign with one team. At the end of day, I thought Colorado was the best decision for me."

His travels weren't over yet, as he was then named to the roster for the World Championships. It was off to Finland, called the "land of a thousand lakes," although there are more than 180,000 lakes in the country. Meyers is one of three players from the Olympic team to make the U.S. roster for the World Championship, and former Gophers Nate Schmidt and Vinni Lettieri also are on the team. Wild players Matt Boldy, Ryan Hartman and John Merrill have been added to the roster following the team's playoff exit.

Team USA is 1-1-1 through three games after losing 4-1 to the host Finns on Monday. The top four teams in each eight-team group advance to the quarterfinals. Team USA plays Great Britain in group play on Thursday.

Minnesota. Then Beijing. Then back to Minnesota, with a bonus trip to Boston for the Frozen Four. Then to Colorado to turn pro. Now to Finland. Meyers has flown over 25,450 miles since mid-January. And that doesn't include Big Ten travel.

He hopes to return with a medal. He can then impress people at parties with Finland facts, like how the game Angry Birds originated there, and that the Finnish consume more coffee per capita than any country in the world.

"It definitely makes your experience much better," Meyers said of being able to sightsee. "So we're having fun here and hopefully we can keep winning, keep getting better as a team and hopefully get to that podium."