Reilly brothers make Gophers hockey history

  • Article by: JASON GONZALEZ , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 28, 2014 - 5:52 AM

The Reillys are the first trio of brothers to skate for the U at the same time.

 

Loud pops, clanking wood and ringing posts echo up the stairs and into each corner of the house. Sounds that mean brothers Connor, Ryan and Mikey have returned to the Reillys’ Chanhassen home and hockey den.

The visits remind the trio of a unique bond that’s stretched over 10 teams, from Mites to college hockey. The Reilly brothers have always been teammates, and that remains unchanged as college players: They are the first three brothers to be Gophers hockey teammates.

All five Reilly siblings — including sisters Shannon and Caitlin — are Division I players. Their father, Mike, played for the Gophers from 1979 to ’81.

Wood-paneled walls and ceiling scuffed with black marks hint at the family’s hockey passion.

Each summer, 15,000 shots fly across the Reilly’s hockey den at the goal stuffed with a tarp. Dozens of pucks are scattered on the concrete floor and there’s no shortage of hockey sticks or gloves.

Framed hockey art and memorabilia line the walls leading to the main floor and out the doors, where training only intensifies. The Reillys’ homemade rink is often bustling with action. At the base of the driveway, a hockey stick reminds each passerby the priority of this home, a focus that has led the brothers to an unprecedented place in the Gophers’ rich hockey tradition.

“Sometimes off the ice, it creeps into my mind, ‘Wow, this is a pretty special opportunity — playing close to home, for a great traditional program, with my brothers,’ ” Mikey said.

Trios of prominent brothers have played for the Gophers in the past. The Hankinsons, the Michelettis, the Brotens … though the sets of three never overlapped, nor produced a three-way goal.

Three Reillys filled the left column of the Gophers’ line chart on Dec. 6 at Michigan State. The 22-year-old twin forwards Connor (the oldest brother by five minutes) and Ryan were at left wing, and 20-year-old brother Mikey in his usual spot at left defense.

Three weeks earlier, brothers Connor and Mikey produced their first collegiate Reilly-to-Reilly goal. An all-Reilly-produced goal has yet to happen for the Gophers, but the more opportunities the trio gets together, they’re confident it’ll come.

“I can picture it now. ‘Reilly, Reilly, Reilly.’ It’s weird to say that,” Ryan said.

Despite Mikey’s two-year age difference, the brothers started college together after varying stints in junior hockey. Connor sat out last season because of a knee injury and is a redshirt freshman; Ryan and Mikey are sophomores.

Special night

Lisa Reilly’s gameday text message of encouragement usually left a son or two out over the past 55 Gophers hockey games.

Her message on Dec. 6 began: “Connor, Ryan and Mikey …”

“It was all three of them this time,” the proud mom said. “I knew it meant a lot for them to all be out there together, finally. I remember when I sent the text they texted me back and said, ‘Yeah, it’s awesome mom, it’s going to be awesome.’ ”

Ryan, who was making his season debut that night in a game at Michigan State, stood in the middle of his brothers during the national anthem. Mikey tapped Ryan on the shin and the brothers relished the moment.

“I thought, ‘I’m playing for the Gophers with both of my brothers and playing on the same ice with them. This is incredible,’ ” Ryan said. “I was shaking myself. Wow, like no one else in the world gets to do this. How many brothers get to play together, same time, same year?”

Special runs in the Reilly family. The eldest Reilly sibling, Shannon, played college hockey at Ohio State. Caitlin Reilly, the youngest of five children, was an All-Metro standout this season on Benilde-St. Margaret’s Class 2A runner-up team. She’ll play hockey at Penn State.

The family gets its passion for the game from the father, Mike. He was part of the 1981 NCAA runner-up Gophers hockey team. His collegiate career started at Colorado College and finished at Minnesota.

Mike was drafted by the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens in 1977 and 34 years later his son, Michael Jr., was drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Hard on the ears

The noise level in the car after the brothers’ youth hockey practice was unbearable.

“They would all get in the car and say, ‘Well, you didn’t do this pass’ or ‘You should have passed it to me here or there,’ ” Lisa Reilly said. “They were at each other the whole way home. I would say ‘Just stop! Just stop!’ … They were coaching each other all the time.”

The brothers have continued this practice wherever they’ve played.

Whether at home in their hockey den, or during their 35-0 season of Squirts, in high school at Holy Angels, during their record 42-game winning streak in the British Columbia Hockey League with the Penticton Vees, and now for the No. 2-ranked Gophers, they’re giving feedback and sometimes criticism.

The brothers, and even their dad, are still punishing Connor for a bad pass he made to Ryan on a breakaway earlier this season. Ryan jokes that it was intentional to keep him from stealing Connor’s job.

Ryan provides the laughs for the trio. Connor tends to be serious and in control. Mikey is the stubborn, goofy little brother, according to younger sister Caitlin.

On the ice, Mikey has been at the forefront of the trio. He played 36 games in his rookie season with the Gophers and won a gold medal with the U.S. National Junior team in the 2013 IIHF World Junior Championships. This season he’s played in every game, is the Gophers’ fifth-leading scorer (22 points) and is the Big Ten’s leading scorer among defensemen.

None of that matters to the twins. They make sure Mikey never gets complacent and stays sharp in the classroom.

“They don’t care if he has more goals than both of them combined, he’ll back down [to Connor and Ryan],” Mike Reilly Sr. said. “I think [the accountability has] helped their development.”

They are each other’s biggest fan. Connor said Mikey lights up each time Ryan has been on the ice with them this season, and Mikey and Connor often follow Ryan’s work ethic. Describing one another as players and teammates is an extended process that leads to laughter.

Though the trio has only played five games together this season, Ryan is hopeful he can work his way into a regular role over the next two seasons. Their chemistry and success as a unit has proved itself in the past and they plan to do the same in college.

Mikey believes in it so much, he said he’d pick playing with his brothers over leaving college early for professional hockey.

“Every day we come to the rink, we realize how lucky we are,” Connor said. “None of us would be here without the other.”

 

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