Marc Draper and Josh Welch met in their first season playing hockey for the Miners in 2005.
Over the years, the duo has been on the rink quite a bit together. Fast forward 12 years and they’re the only two members left on the original Miners team.
“Whether it’s just people dispersing or the younger guys that still have that competitive drive are playing on the higher level team whereas we’re kind of on that second level team,” Welch said.
The Miners, which play in the Adult Hockey Association in the Twin Cities, have two teams: A and B1. Draper and Welch compete in B1, which is a lower level division for “older” Miners players.
“It’s really a different team now,” Draper said. “There’s not many of us left. It’s still a good time to hang out with the guys.”
Draper liked it when the team was a core group of players who returned every year and shared a common bond on the ice.
“I think playing with the older guys was much better because we were such a close team,” Draper said. “We were together for so long. We played for probably four, five years together and guys started moving away, so we just started bring in new guys. We’ve had some good fun with some newer people, but this year and last year were almost complete turnover every year.”
With only two original members remaining, turnover has been rampant over the years. That makes it tough for the team to compete some seasons.
“There’s no jell in it all,” said Draper, 39. “We’re not real successful.”
The guys aren’t able to build team camaraderie with so many new faces.
“When your team’s not winning a lot of games, it’s harder to get guys to show up,” said Welch, 35. “It’s challenging. We used to have good chemistry, a lot of good teams. But with all the turnover now, it gets difficult at times.”
During its heyday, the Miners captured three or four league titles. Draper and Welch admit they both used to be pretty highly competitive and always want to win. However, with each getting older, it’s not all about what the scoreboard reads when the final buzzer sounds.
“It’s just a night out,” Welch said. “Now that we’ve got little ones, it gets me out of the house. It keeps me kind of in shape. I coach hockey, too, so I don’t need those kids passing me up in skill level — they’re right there. I have to keep tuning what skill I have left.”
Draper agrees nowadays it’s about being able to just get on the ice.
“Still get a chance to play,” Draper said. “It’s the only thing I can really do know. Get out and skate a little bit in the winter, that’s about it.”
Once a year, four or five of the original Miners team members make the four-plus-hour trek northeast to Eagle River, Wisconsin, to play in the annual Labatt Blue/USA Hockey Pond Hockey National Championships.
It’s Welch’s time to break away from his family and enjoy some time with the boys.
“I get four days away a year and we choose to come [to Eagle River],” Welch said. “It’s a blast. And bringing back some of those older Miners, that’s where I met all those guys. It’s fun to get a guys’ reunion back together now that everyone’s moved away across the United States.”
In February, the Miners wrapped up their third trip to the pond hockey championships. They used to compete in tournaments around the country, including Las Vegas, but now it’s one trip a year.
“This one’s the most important one for sure,” Draper said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.