DENVER, Co. (WJMN) – The Michigan UP Veterans Hockey Club are your 2023-24 USA Hockey Warrior Hockey National Tournament Champions. Adding to the accolades, this is their second year in a row taking home the title. The tournament took place over five days in Colorado earlier this month. The U.P. Vets ended up against a team from lower Michigan in the championship.

“The other Michigan team from Lower Peninsula is just a fabulous group of guys. They’re very, very talented. And when we found out we had to play them in the championship, we’re like, Oh, man, we just barely scored the game winning goal against them to advance into the championship game. We scored with like 30 seconds left to go in the game. We came back from a 3 to 1 deficit going into the third and tied it up with a couple of minutes left to go in the game and then bang, Trevor Ploe hit the game winning goal at 30 some seconds left. They really gave us a run for the money. They’re a great group of guys. They’re very supportive of what we’re doing here in the U.P.,” said Jon French with the Michigan UP Veterans Hockey Club.

French said going to tournaments like this make him and his teammates proud of where they grew up.

“Hockey is one of the sports where when you when you hit the ice, you can hit the switch and you can be gritty, you can be physical and bang on people a little bit. When you go to Warrior Tournament, you know, we all have ailments. I’ve got a full artificial elbow. We have a veteran with one eye. So, he’s out there playing, and everybody has issues. We skate hard, but at the same time, we’re very considerate as far as, you know not banging too hard against each other. But it all that kind of got thrown out the window when it comes into this national tournament,” added French.

While the competition was intense on the ice, after the games, it’s a chance for Veterans from around the country to bond with each other. For our U.P. vets, it also meant sharing a little taste of home.

“We’re laughing because in addition to, you know, the KBC beer that we brought down, I mean, we brought moose meat down, we brought venison down. So we’re out there grilling and having a good time. And it’s like, is this is really venison? So, you know, it’s more we got to share our culture and the more we reach out and the more friends we make, the more connections in the tighter communities so that veterans don’t feel left out. But it’s really, really proud to show off where we’re from, what we represent, the die-hard attitude,” continued French.

The team is always looking for more veterans to join their squad. the best way to reach out is through their Facebook page.

“Every year they ask, man, how long have you guys been playing together? How many times a week do you practice?” French continued, “That’s the ironic thing, is the expanse of the U.P., it’s 6 hours from one end to the other. So, we don’t get together and we’re like, oh, this is the first time this entire team has been on the ice at the same time. And they’re like, no way, get out of here. But it’s just the hockey culture and the U.P. that you know where to be and know what your job is. Everybody’s on the same page and it just flows and the style and the tempo of the game.”

One constant for the UP Veterans Hockey Club has been and continues to be community support.

“The community has been very, very good to us, very supportive. You look at the other teams from across the nation, they’re all associated with an NHL team. And here we are. We’re just…we’re the Yoopers. We came from the U.P. We’ve got sponsors from the eastern end to the western and north to south.”