As Brannon McManus left 3M Arena at Mariucci after practice Tuesday afternoon, he passed linemate Ben Meyers and slapped him on the back.
"See ya, kid," the junior said before the freshman, Meyers, responded, "Yeah, later."
Seemed like a pretty typical scene between the two Gophers hockey players, except for one subtle detail. Meyers isn't exactly a "kid." In fact, he's nearly a year older than McManus.
At 21, Meyers is one of the elders on the team despite his freshman status. Yet, even after a recent surge in points and ascent to the top forward line, he still very much embraces his low-tier status in the class hierarchy.
"I'm still loading the bus," Meyers said, referring to one of the freshmen's responsibilities. "So the age thing doesn't really come up that much. It's more how many years you've been here."
And under that classification, Meyers is just a 6-month-old. The Delano native arrived on campus after two seasons playing for the USHL's Fargo Force, an experience he tabs as seminal.
The center led his team last season with 65 points and 33 goals, earning himself a spot on the All-USHL's second team. The year before, he helped Fargo win its first Clark Cup with an organization-record 58 goals.
While playing in juniors between high school and college is fairly common in hockey, the Gophers usually skew younger. For example, No. 3 Minnesota State Mankato has only one teen on its roster. The Gophers have nine players born this millennium, making their average age nearly two years younger than the Mavericks'.
The Gophers' upcoming opponent this weekend, Wisconsin, has the same average age of 20.4 years old. But Meyers being a veteran freshman "helps a lot," coach Bob Motzko said.
"We're not going to have a lot of them, but we need more of them," Motzko said. "… The benefits that they can bring inside your lineup are outstanding, when they can come in with a little gristle, a little snarl and darn good hockey players, too."
Motzko said Meyers' time in the USHL really refined his game while also reinforcing a diligent work ethic and a strong body. At 5-11, 200 pounds, Meyers won't have to bulk up in the weight room this summer like last year's freshmen did.
With small-school Delano, Meyers said his team often won by five or six goals, which enabled him to tally 278 career points. In Fargo, he had to learn how to play without the puck and not just rely on his skill.
"They pushed me really hard to compete," said Meyers, who committed to Omaha before switching to the Gophers. "… I wasn't really competing as hard as I could to make an impact on the game. I think they kind of straightened that out."
That's certainly evident now. In just the last weekend's series against Ohio State, Meyers and his line with McManus and Sampo Ranta accounted for seven goals and seven assists, two each for Meyers alone. That offensive eruption came from a willingness to create turnovers and play tough, something Meyers displayed by sending an Ohio State player toppling into his team's bench.
"He's made an unbelievable impact so far, and he's going to continue to do that," McManus said of Meyers. "… There's games where he's the best player on the ice both nights, and it makes it easier for guys like me."
Meyers rides the line between old-timer — not shying away from speaking up in team meetings — and newcomer — still living and hanging out with the other 10 freshmen, including watching "The Bachelor" together.
He's a hard-nosed player who will win every battle on the ice but doesn't sweat being overlooked in high school, only receiving a call from Motzko after Meyers' first year of juniors.
Old or young, experienced or green, Meyers isn't concerned with where he fits.
"Age is really — it's irrelevant," Meyers said. "Just because someone's older doesn't mean he's going to be a better player, doesn't mean he's going to work hard."
But being Ben Meyers, he might.