WEST FARGO — Twenty-seven percent of the players on the West Fargo boys hockey team have a relative on the squad.
West Fargo has become accustomed to competing under strange circumstances the past few years. Situations that most teams in any sport would see as a rarity, the Packers see as the norm.
When West Fargo (4-1) split with West Fargo Sheyenne three years ago, the Mustangs took 19 seniors with them, leaving the Packers with just four returning players. Now, the Packers have five sets of brothers on their team.
“Becoming a family” has a quite literal meaning for the Packers hockey team this year.
“It’s weird, you know. We’ve had some crazy things happen the last few years,” West Fargo head coach Troy Miller said.
The Packers hockey program currently has 37 kids between varsity and junior varsity, and 10 of those guys have a sibling on the team.
“It’s a crazy percentage,” Miller said.
And it could’ve been even more odd. The Packers were close to having six pairs of brothers this season, but one sibling decided to play another year of Bantams.
Three of the sibling pairs have one brother who’s a senior, and the other a freshman. Miller can’t remember a time ever coaching — or coming close to coaching so many siblings at once — but he's had fun with it.
“They’re (the brothers) are all great kids," Miller said. "All of our kids in general, we have excellent kids over here, come from good families, but it’s really kind of neat to have the five brothers.”
Plus, it decreases the parents as well, Miller joked.
“So it’s less people to deal with, and it’s really, really neat,” Miller said.
Miller doesn’t have to coach or discipline the sets of siblings more than he would any other player. Almost all of the brothers in the pairings are around the same age, so the younger kids have been around the older ones for years.
“They’re not intimidated by the older kids like they would be if they weren’t siblings,” Miller said. “I think it really benefits our team as a whole, because they’ve all been around their brothers’ friends. They’re pretty comfortable around each other, they treat each other well. We’re really blessed.”
Senior forward Devin Wolf never thought he’d sit in the same high school locker room with his younger brother, Aiden, a freshman right-winger.
“I always thought he would just play Bantams like every other ninth-grader,” Devin said. “But a lot of freshmen came up. It's a good experience for them, so that when they’re juniors and seniors, they can have more success than us.”
Whereas some older siblings are annoyed by the younger, it’s quite the opposite for the Wolfs. Devin likes having his little brother on the ice with him.
“It's the first time this has happened. It’s fun to experience having him out there at practice,” Devin said. “Good chemistry. I push him to be better because I want to see him have more success than me. And if I can get that in his head at a young age, then it’ll help him out in the future.”
Aiden was excited when he found out he’d be playing with his older brother this year.
“I like it because it makes me feel like I have someone that I really know out there, who knows what they’re doing and they can help me if I have a question,” Aiden said.
Dalton and Colten Bossert haven’t played together in years. Dalton, a junior, and Colten, a freshman, have landed on the same roster before on summer or throw-together teams, but never in a regular season.
Dalton was happy when he found out Colten made the team. He thought his younger brother deserved a spot on varsity. Colten thought it was funny landing on the same roster — he didn’t expect to share the ice with his brother as a freshman.
The Bosserts don’t bicker a lot at the rink, but it’s a different story at home, Dalton said. Without hesitation, both brothers agreed after games in the car is when most arguments occur.
“(Colten) told me for a long time, ‘Oh I have two goals, how many do you have?’ I had one,” Dalton said.
Coming from the younger sibling, Colten said he had to brag about it. Though the Bosserts are out on the same shift sometimes, Dalton said Colten doesn’t feel like just another teammate.
“He’ll always be my brother,” Dalton said. “He always has a special place in my heart.”
Dalton said his parents are thrilled to watch him and Colten play together this year.
“They’re freaking out every game. They're loving it,” Dalton said. “His (Colten’s) first goal was emotional for them.”
West Fargo’s head coach also has fun coaching the siblings, too.
“If we do something wrong, he’ll (Miller) joke around about the one sibling and say, ‘Follow the other sibling about what he’s doing right,’” said Blake Hansen, who is one-half of a stepbrother duo on the team.
This season is sophomore James Mullen’s and junior Blake Hansen’s third year on the same team as each other, “Which is enough,” Mullen joked.
Mullen said it’s been fun being on the same team as Hansen, who has been his stepbrother for more than half of his life. In peewees, the siblings had one game where Mullen and Hansen both put up two goals each.
“But we couldn’t get a hat trick, that was pretty annoying,” Mullen said.
After games, hockey is almost always the topic of conversation. Hansen and Mullen were on the ice at the same time quite a bit last year, and admittedly, harped on each other’s performances more than they would other teammate’s.
Hockey is all Jackson and Riley Prochnow talk about at home, too. The Prochnows knew for some time that they both earned spots on the same team this year.
“But now that it's finally here, it's fun,” senior center Jackson said. “I'm a little more harsh on him than I am on my teammates. Otherwise it’s fun having him in there. It’s pretty neat.”
Playing with a sibling was new territory for Jackson, unlike freshman Riley, who’s familiar with the situation, having been on the same team as their seventh-grade brother before.
“It’s fun. It gets kind of funny when (Jackson) starts just ripping on me for no reason,” Riley said.
Their parents are also fans of the situation.
“My mom is going to start crying,” Riley said. “She’ll cry when she sees us on the ice for the first time together.”
Owen and Carter Witt’s parents also have one less game to go to. Owen, a freshman, said playing with his brother has its ups and downs.
“If I mess up a drill, he’ll be harsh on me,” Owen said. “But that's just because he wants me to get better.”
The oldest of the two, Carter, a senior, said bickering with his brother is a bright spot.
“You enjoy the competitiveness and stuff like that,” Carter said. “But it’s also fun to see him thrive and do good on the ice.”
The Packers will have at least three sets of brothers next year. Continuing the team’s trend of unusualness, another pair will be moving up to join the Bosserts and Mullen and Hansen in 2020.