Even in little things, the Brodzinski brothers stick together.
“Every single game we play, hockey, Xbox or anything else, it’ll be me and Jonny,” Michael Brodzinski said.
The alliance always has been successful. The pair led Blaine High School to three top-six finishes in the state tournament and caught the attention of two of college hockey’s top programs. Over the Christmas break the brothers and best friends briefly reconnected to stir up some of the old magic.
This alliance, however, will take a new twist at 7 p.m. Friday in the inaugural North Star College Cup at Xcel Energy Center.
Sophomore Jonny Brodzinski, St. Cloud State’s leading scorer, will face off against Gophers standout freshman defenseman Michael Brodzinski.
The brothers will be in unfamiliar territory opposing each other, although it finally will offer some clarity in the ongoing argument of who made the better college choice.
“We’ve always pretty much been on the same team. Even when we play against our two younger brothers, it’s me and Michael against those two,” Jonny said. “It was pretty special with what we had, but we split up.”
A new sort of Minnesota hockey state tournament will reunite the brothers. There will be a bigger reunion: Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State Mankato, St. Cloud State and the Gophers will converge on St. Paul for a two-day showcase of in-state rivals.
The North Star College Cup is a result of college hockey’s shifting landscape. Once Minnesota’s five Division I hockey programs were split up from the old WCHA, the idea of a tournament for those teams became realistic.
Gophers coach Don Lucia, who helped create the event, said it should help fans and programs transition into the new era.
“A lot of people had talked about it on the napkins and that it might be something we want to throw together,” St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said. “If it’s successful and everybody is happy with it, it will be a great thing for the state of Minnesota hockey.”not
Matchups like the Brodzinski brothers are part of the reason why the Minnesota rivalries have become so loved.
“I think the fans like it, and we like it, too, ’cause a lot of guys stay around here that you grew up playing against,” Gophers forward Kyle Rau said. “So we know a lot of guys at St. Cloud State, so it’s fun playing them again.”
It’ll be tough to find opponents who know each other better than the Brodzinskis.
Jonny knows his younger brother likes to throw an elbow or two in the corners. Michael knows what direction his older brother prefers to lean on breakaways.
Michael assisted on the majority of Jonny’s goals in high school. He will be responsible for stopping him this weekend. It won’t be easy. Jonny has scored 11 goals this season.
Last season he led all NCAA Division I rookies with 22 goals, and his hot start this season earned a nomination for the Hobey Baker Award.
Jonny’s accolades make Michael proud. He said his older brother is starting to get the recognition he always knew Jonny was worthy of. Once the warm fuzzy feeling wears off, though, Michael reverts to chirping into his brother’s ear or cellphone.
“He likes to keep firing. I’m more laid back and he’s more fiery,” Jonny said. “Lately, he’s been throwing little chirps here and there, so if we kind of show him up a little bit, hopefully this weekend will prove something.”
Michael is confident it will prove what he spent all Christmas break telling his brother — the Gophers are better than the Huskies. The two teams shared the No. 1 ranking in different polls during the holidays and each made compelling cases for his team.
The Gophers enter Friday’s game ranked No. 1, the Huskies No. 5.
The Brodzinski family will join in on the rivalry. Father Mike Brodzinski was a two-time All-America player for St. Cloud State in the late ’80s. Though Michael and his dad share the same intense personality, Mike Brodzinski will be supporting his alma mater. Michael hopes his mom and grandparents are wearing maroon and gold.
St. Cloud State was an easy choice for Jonny, who followed in his father’s footsteps. Michael, however, wanted to create his own path. Once the Gophers came calling, his decision was also easy, and the two split ways.
Lucia anticipates the brothers will get several shifts to skate against one another. Neither has any intention to be forgiving with bragging rights at stake.
“I’m going to try to get a couple of points if I can, but if not, hopefully I can just stop him from scoring if I’m out there,” Michael said. “We both know that it’s going to be a big game, and both know that we’re going to get bragging rights whoever wins here.”