Like many young hockey players, Kaden Kohlhepp’s winter pilgrimage was just beyond his backdoor into a man-made rink created as soon as the temps consistently dipped below freezing.
There, the future first-pairing defenseman for state-ranked Eau Claire Memoiral would hone his skillset, moving with the puck and firing the rubber on a makeshift net.
His personal goalie growing up? That’d be brother Tanner, older by 22 months. The same Tanner who is a starting guard on the Old Abes basketball team.
“That’s just something we did in the backyard when we were younger,” Tanner said.
It’s a bit rare to have high-level basketball and hockey siblings grow up in the same household. Particularly when under that same roof is father Trevor, who coached Memorial’s varsity basketball team for five seasons from 1999-2004.
Without any family member — immediate or extended — playing a lick of organized hockey to look up to, Kaden began carving out his own path in kindergarten. His good friend Brenden Olson, a current all-conference winger at Memorial, was about to begin his hockey journey. Kaden inquired about joining his buddy.
“We’ve been friends for a really long time, and I just wanted to play with my friends,” Kaden said. “I asked my parents if I could play hockey, and I fell in love with it ever since.”
Trevor, who coached the Memorial boys hoops team to the state tournament in 2003, and wife Steph never pushed their sons in any one direction. Perhaps that’s why Kaden felt the freedom to gravitate to a sport literally nobody in the family ever played.
Tanner was always a hooper and began playing on travel teams as early as third grade. It was clear he’d be on the hardwood.
It took coaching Kaden’s YMCA basketball team early in his schooling to give Trevor a hunch the family’s winter nights a decade later would revolve around two different Old Abes teams.
Whenever there was a scheduling conflict, Kaden would choose hockey over playing on a basketball team his father coached.
“That was probably the seed that was planted that he was playing hockey,” Trevor said. “When Dad was coaching, he wasn’t even there.”
And for the last 10-plus years, the Kohlhepps have split time between the court and the rink. As the boys got older and into varsity competition, that’s made for busy winter nights.
Often times, that means Tanner — a combo guard averaging 11.6 points per game while usually drawing the other team’s best backcourt player — is playing basketball somewhere. Kaden — a new-era type defenseman who joins offensive rushes and has seven assists and two goals — is lacing up the skates elsewhere.
There’s always somebody there, whether Trevor and Steph split up or the grandparents make a trip they can’t.
“There’s a lot of support from the family,” Tanner said.
And there’s support among the brothers too.
While they don’t see much of each other during the evenings in the winter, they come home at the same time and close most nights out on the couches in the basement of the Kohlhepps’ home.
Even though they aren’t around each other’s team dynamics, they share a common goal of wanting to succeed. That opens up dialogue as they wind down the evening watching TV on a channel that’s usually Tanner’s choosing. And of course, it’s usually basketball — the Milwaukee Bucks in particular.
“They balance each other as common grounds, talking about competing and mental toughness and things like that,” Tanner said. “It’s fun to be able to talk to somebody and share a common ground even though you’re playing two different sports.”
Neither cares for losing. And that can make watching one another even more stressful.
“When you are watching other sports team and you’re brother isn’t playing, if they lose they lose,” Kaden said. “But you have to come home with it.”
They have a younger brother, Bennett, in seventh grade who most likely will play basketball by the time he reaches high school.
Tanner and Kaden both support the heck out of each other. That’s evident after spending a few minutes with the both of them.
But they are typical brothers too. While they dabble in one another’s sports around the house — whether it’s one-on-one hoops in the driveway or shooting practice on the ice — neither is fearful of being replaced should the other wander over to the other sport.
“I swear he shoots (a basketball) with two hands,” Tanner said.
“His skating isn’t that good either,” Kaden replied.
“Oh come on,” Tanner said with a laugh.
Tanner will play baseball at Tennessee next fall. Kaden is hoping to finish off a strong junior season and get even better as a senior for a shot at extending his hockey career.
Regardless of where their athletic journeys end, they’ve had a unique experience being so heavily involved in two different prominent sports at Memorial.
“It’s been a good dynamic for the two of them to have their own sport,” Trevor said. “It’s given them both their own identity, and I think it fits their own identities, so that’s kind of neat.”
Above all, they are Kohlhepps and Old Abes. No matter the sport, that carries a lot of weight for both.