Over twenty years of “what if” and “if only” were wiped away one evening while Neeco and Wolff Belanger were relaxing on winter break. It was then that Neeco came to the snap decision to transfer home to play alongside his brother at Northern Michigan.
The Belanger brothers are two years apart; Neeco is now a senior at Northern while Wolff is a sophomore. Neeco, however, does have an additional year of DII eligibility and will be able to use it as he wraps up his education – he changed his major last year while still at Lindenwood.
Neeco, a two-time National Champion and captain with Lindenwood (DI) had returned home for break and was preparing to have a minor procedure done on his knee when his plans changed.
“Through talking with my brother and talking with some coaches that I could put it off and play,” he said. “So I decided to put it off until the end of the season and play with my brother for as long as I can.
“I hadn’t planned on playing the rest of this season until the doctor said I could play on it and it wasn’t going to make it any worse. Also realizing I could play with my brother and live at home at the same time kind of sweetened the deal.”
So the eldest Belanger took the necessary steps to withdraw from Lindenwood and transfer his credits to Northern Michigan while also planning to suit up for the spring semester. While the process came down to the wire, Neeco was able to join the team for the second semester this season.
“We definitely had some doubts with all the steps he needed to take as to whether he was going to come or not,” Wolff said. “I really didn’t believe it until he was attending class and stepped on the ice for his first game.”
“Different pieces began falling together and when I got home I only had about a week to decide if I wanted to sign up for classes at Northern or have surgery and be out for six months while going back to Lindenwood,” Neeco added. “I saw the pieces coming together and there are only a few more years where I would be able to play with my brother and it’s an opportunity many other people don’t get a chance to have.”
Both Neeco and Wolff credit the other as being his best friend. From knee hockey, to ponds and backyard rinks the pair always made sure to team up since their age difference prevented it at the organized levels of hockey. The rare opportunity hasn’t been lost on either as they have both described the experience as surreal, and the second semester is only seven games old.
Wolff, who is tied for fourth in the national scoring race with 66 points (31+35) has only improved since gaining his sibling as a linemate. In the seven games since Neeco has arrived, Wolff has 14 points (5+9) including back-to-back three-point nights to open the semester. Of course, the sibling rivalry isn’t lost on the pair; Neeco has surpassed his first semester point total in these first seven games, picking up 13 points (7+6) since his debut with Northern.
Neeco’s goal scoring prowess has been particularly noticeable, scoring his seven goals in five of his seven games. Of course, his most impressive outing was a five-point night (1+4) in a 5-2 win over St. Cloud.
“Neeco has come in and done what we expected him too. He has been a very nice fit offensively and has contributed in that department,” head coach Carl Trosien said.
Despite being two years apart, nearly twenty years of brotherhood and friendship has helped Neeco and Wolff form a bond that is not unlike that of the Sedin twins in Vancouver. The fact that the pair has combined for 27 points (12+15) in their first seven games is evidence of just that.
Their combined success comes despite the pair playing very different styles. As brothers sometimes do, Neeco didn’t shy away from taking a poke at Wolff when he described his younger brother as more of a flashy playmaker compared to the meat and potatoes style that Neeco attributed to himself. Wolff was able to laugh off the jibe and went so far as to agree with Neeco.
“As much as they are different they do complement each other well,” Trosien added on their connection. “You can tell the way they play they are different players with different styles, yet somehow they like to do similar things and they work the puck well together in the offensive zone. “
What might be the most impressive part of this new opportunity is not only the level of excitement that Wolff exuded, but the respect he showed to his brother. Wolff pointed to Neeco’s pair of National Championships, winning attitude and maturity as three major factors for helping to take Northern to the next level as a team.
“With the type of player he is and the leader he’s always been will definitely drive our team. He will do whatever it takes to make our team successful,” Wolff said. “I would say his confidence. He is a very confident person and when he knows what it will take to win, he will do it.”
Carl Trosien echoed Wolff’s statement on what Neeco’s leadership will bring to the table as Northern looks to take the next step towards Nationals. While the hill they need to climb in DII’s ultra-competitive Central Region is high, having Neeco and Wolff together for this semester and next year has Trosien and the team thinking big.
The next step for Wolff, Neeco and their teammates will be to make an impact at the regional level on their way to the National Tournament. Putting the Belanger brothers together has already made an impact on the win column for Northern and that should continue as this season closes and the 2013-14 season begins.
To think that this all came from a conversation had while the pair lounged on the couch this past winter.