Melissa and her grandfather, Bill, at the national tournament. Melissa Drown takes a shot against Liberty University in the ACHA National Tournament at Columbus, OH.

Special Day for grandpa

Competing for the final time to cap a career in a sport you love is always a special time for an athlete. For Melissa Drown, that time was made extra special with her 87-year-old grandfather, Bill Drown, in attendance.

Melissa, the daughter of 1976 Minneota graduate Chris Drown, played four years of women’s hockey for the University of Minneota’s American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA team), a Division I 23-team club hockey conference. Bill was on hand to watch his granddaughter play for the Gophers in the ACHA National Tournament recently in Columbus, OH.

“It was very special for me, too,” said Bill, 87, who has spent nearly his entire life in Minneota and now lives in Marshall. “It was just an absolutely wonderful feeling to be there.”

Although the University of Minnesota has a Division I team that is a perennial power in the NCAA, many other universities struggle with budgets and are unable offer women’s hockey; so they compete in the non-profit ACHA.

In the case of the Gophers and other universities that do compete in the NCAA, this offers additional players on a campus a chance to compete at a high level.

“Since some of the universities don't have women's hockey, this is their top team,” explained Chris Drown. “There are some very good players in this conference.”

There are three divisions of men’s hockey (DI, DII and DIII) and two divisions of women’s hockey. Some players that played in the ACHA have gone on to play on national teams and on NHL minor league affiliates.

Melissa was a standout high school forward for the Alexandria Cardinals. She was named the team Most Valuable Player as a senior and competed in the state tournament in both her junior and senior years. She then chose to attend the University of Minnesota and is majoring in Marine Biology.

She graduates in May and has accepted a graduate research assistantship in Marine Biology with the University of Miami on Coral Gables, FL. Melissa played four seasons for the Golden Gophers in the ACHA, notching 38 goals and 44 assists.

The Gophers qualified for the eight-team national tournament all four years Drown played for them. The top eight teams in the 23-team conference advance to the national tournament. The Gophers were defeated by eventual two-time national champion Liberty University in the quarterfinals.

The nationals were played at Sidner Arena in Columbus each of the past two years.

Bill wanted to see his granddaughter’s final game of her career and rode along 900 miles to Columbus with his daughter, Cindy Anderson, who lives in Cottonwood.

“I really appreciate all the support from my family over the years,” said Melissa.

“It was great to have grandpa at nationals for my final games.” Chris and his wife Denise flew to Columbus from Alexandria. They all stayed at the home of William “Kurt” Drown, Bill’s son who lives in Columbus. “It was a nice surprise that the tournament was held in the same town as my son lives,” said Bill. “Not only did I get to see Melissa play her final games with Minnesota, but I got to spend some time with some of my kids.”

Bill lost his wife, Sharlene, to cancer five years ago. They had been married for 57 years and had seven children; Anita (Carlson) of St. Cloud, Chris, Cindy, Kurt, Steve of Virginia, Mary Post of North Carolina, and Brian of St. Cloud. Bill now resides at Heritage Pointe Senior Living in Marshall and still follows hockey at the high school, collegiate and professional levels. “We used to skate all the time in Minneota when they used to have a skating rink here,” he said.

“My dad played hockey for Roseau in the 1920s.” Although Chris wasn’t a hockey player, he and his wife got his four daughters involved in skating when they were young.

Their oldest daughter, Stephanie, was a goalie for Alexandria.

“She went to St. Cloud State and became a hockey cheerleader for the men’s team,” said Chris.

“They’re the top-ranked team in the nation now, so that’s pretty cool.”

The end to Melissa’s hockey career also means the end of traveling all over the country for Chris and his wife to watch their daughter compete.

“We’ve been traveling for 14 years now; ever since she was eight years old,” said Chris, who owns and operates Shady Oaks Campground with his wife on Smith Lake near Alexandria.

“It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s sad to see it end.”

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