GRAND FORKS — "It still fits," said Michael Leach while showing off his University of North Dakota lettermans ring he received 51 years ago.
"To me, it was as important to get a degree as it was to get the ring. I accomplished something," Leach said.
He earned the ring after serving as student manager of the UND hockey team for three seasons in the late 1960s. He graduated in 1969 and moved to Des Moines, Iowa, for a teaching job. He still played the game he loved by joining a men's hockey league.
"Why I decided to wear it to this, maybe a little pride. 'Hey guys, you aren't dealing with a dumby here. I have some experience,'" Leach said, taking a guess at why he wore the ring to that fateful hockey practice.
But after practice, he noticed it was gone.
"I was like, 'Where's my ring? Did I put it in my pocket?' (I) turned my hockey bag upside down."
Years became decades. Leach thought he would never see the ring again.
"I never forgot about it. In the back of my mind, it was a nice memento to have," he said.
Some 51 years later, some metal detector enthusiasts struck gold.
"I just got a blaring signal, something good maybe," said Jason Burgsma.
Burgsma was metal detecting in a small town baseball field with Amanda Konieczny. Buried about 10 inches in the ground was a ring.
"I called her over. I was like, 'Honey, I found a bucket-lister,'" Burgsma said.
The field is a favorite spot for Burgsma and Konieczny because it's across from an historic building.
"(We're) just trying to piece together the mystery of how it ended up there," the couple said.
The baseball field is in Badjeros, Ontario. The town is more than 800 miles away from Des Moines. It's a place Michael Leach has never been to in his life.
"Where the hell is that? I have no idea," was Leach's reaction when he got the call the ring had been found.
"How did it get back to this small town in the middle of nowhere and have me go over that spot with my machine? I could have missed it by inches and it would still be in the ground," Burgsma said.
Jason and Amanda contacted UND. The ring had 1969 on it, along with Michael's initials, MSL.
UND sent an email to six people who had those initials and had graduated that year. Michael Leach could not believe it. His ring had been found 51 years after he lost it.
"I think seeing the pictures was more of a shock and happiness than actually seeing the ring itself," Leach said, referring to the pictures of the ring in the ground.
Jason and Amanda mailed the ring to Michael at his home in Florida. Of course, he took a picture with it, but admits he doesn't wear it much. He keeps it in a safe spot.
"For fear I may now lose it again. I'm at the age now where losing things is pretty easy to do," he said with a chuckle.
Michael has worked for the NHL for nearly 30 years, the past few years as a concussion spotter. Michael invited Jason, Amanda and their son to Florida to meet in person and bring them to a hockey game.