MADISON, Wis. -- Hockey players often live a nomadic life. Take Noah Weber, for example.

Originally from Eagle River, Wis., the hard-nosed forward who turned 21 in February has already gotten his mail in Faribault, Minn., Madison, Wis., and Kearney, Neb., during various stops in his hockey career.

He was ready to add Colorado Springs, Colo., to that list, but life gets in the way sometimes. And when things get tough, it’s common to want to be closer to home.

That’s how it came to pass that last weekend Weber announced that he’s not going to the U.S. Air Force Academy, as originally planned, and instead will be a Minnesota Gopher starting in the fall. For a kid who grew up following a certain rival in cardinal and white, it was an interesting decision.

“I’m a Badger football fan. I was, at least. I’m sure I can be transitioned,” Weber said this week, noting that he was reminded a few times which school is currently in possession of Paul Bunyan’s Axe (the traveling football trophy for which the Gophers and Badgers battle on the football field each year) when he visited the U of M campus.

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Dealing with adversity

Two years ago, while skating in a camp at the University of Wisconsin, Weber took a high stick to the eye and has dealt with that injury since then. Doctors originally feared that he would lose the eye, but today he has a small blind spot and takes a prescription eye drop each day. Still, he feared his plans to be an airman and play for Air Force could be jeopardized due to the injury.

More recently, a family tragedy struck.

In the early morning hours of Sunday, May 12, Weber’s father Scott, 49, was killed in a one-car accident in a rural area of northern Wisconsin. With that news still fresh and raw, Noah made the determination that he was not going to Colorado for college and military service, and needed to be closer to home and family. This week, Weber said that he was even willing to quit hockey, if needed, and praised the Air Force coaches for being understanding and working with him to find a new landing spot.

“Those guys were all awesome throughout the whole process. It wouldn’t have been a problem at all if I had ended up there,” Weber said, singling out Falcons coaches Frank Serratore, Joe Doyle and Andy Berg. “They reached out to other schools. Really respectable group of guys.”

The quick change in plans ended with Weber announcing that he would be a Gopher, and making plans to move to Minneapolis by the middle of June. While the Gophers coaches cannot comment on him yet, those Weber has worked with during stints at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and in the USHL think that coach Bob Motzko is getting a mature and unexpected addition to the roster.

“His game is tailored around basically doing what his team needs, whether that’s physicality or picking guys up on the bench, that’s just him,” said Tri-City Storm coach Anthony Noreen, who coached Weber in the 2017-18 season. “He’s one of the most likable guys I’ve coached. The guys just loved him, so he’s a pretty easy guy to root for.”

Weber, who is listed at 6-foot and 205 pounds, said he brings a puck-protecting “defensive forward” mentality to the game and looks forward to going to work in the massive square corners in the Gophers’ home rink.

“I’m a gritty power forward and I don’t like to get scored on,” said Weber, who had eight goals and 21 points in 61 USHL games last season. “My skating is not the most conventional, but I find a way to get the job done. I like to play the body and I like to pass the puck. I like to create space on the ice and offensive zone corners are probably where I do my best work.”

Weber joins a small, but growing, list of Wisconsin natives who have crossed the St. Croix River to skate for the Gophers. Weber laughed when it was noted that he’ll need to live up to the reputations of Nate Condon from Wausau, who captained the 2014 run to the national title game, and NHL star Phil Kessel from Madison, who are two of the more recent Gophers from America’s Dairyland.

“I wouldn’t consider myself that type of player, but hopefully I can catch fans' eyes some different way, like putting a guy through the glass or something,” he said.