Whatever direction Jonny Brodzinski was going, younger brother Michael wasn't far behind. With just 23 months separating the two, little brother was always emulating big brother's footsteps, and eventually strides.
But now the Brodzinski brothers are skating on their own paths.
Jonny, 21, and Michael, 19, have been on skates since they were 4. Dad, Mike, was a standout at Blaine High School, familiarizing the community with the Brodzinski name before the boys joined the Bengals ranks. Easton, 18, is captain of the high school squad this year. Bryce, 14, is not far behind on the Blaine Youth Hockey Association Bantam AA roster.
Mom, Kathy, admits she didn’t even know much about hockey before she met Mike in high school. Now she and her family don’t know a life without it.
“The hardest time of year for me is March and April,” Kathy admitted. “When it all kind of stops for that little bit, I’m just champing at the bit for it to start again.”
Her boys are, too.
“Hockey is just a family activity,” said Michael. “We go and have fun and play our best and hopefully we can take it somewhere some day.”
Jonny and Michael have already begun taking their hockey careers to new heights.
Jonny has had two standout years at St. Cloud State University, highlighted by a team-leading 21 goals and 41 points as a sophomore last season. As a freshman, he helped the Huskies to their first-ever Frozen Four berth in 2013 while leading all NCAA Division I rookies with 22 goals.
Like his brother, Michael too had a successful rookie year with the University of Minnesota in 2013-14. A self-described offensive defenseman, he tallied 13 points in 26 games. His performance earned him an invite to the 2014 U.S. Junior Evaluation Camp.
Their story has been a rather special one.
Like most brothers, Jonny and Michael learned by playing together. Knee hockey, rollerblading around the block and stick-handling in the driveway. They became “official” teammates in the Blaine Youth Hockey Association and maintained that status all the way up through Bantams.
“For a while I think Michael thought he was Jonny’s age,” joked Mike, who coached their teams growing up. “It taught them both a lot. They grew as players and had fun doing so.”
It made the transition to high school even easier. The two joined forces for two years together at Blaine, once as a junior-freshman tandem and then as a senior-sophomore threat. The duo dominated the power play together and helped push the Bengals to consecutive state tournament appearances.
“I think we had 30 or 40 points on the power play one year,” recalled Jonny. “It worked out really well for us.”
Michael agrees it was a special thing to play high school hockey with a linemate you’ve known since birth.
“We both just knew where we were going and what we were doing,” he added.
The eldest Mike played one season for the Gophers in the 80s before finishing his collegiate career at St. Cloud as a two-time All-American under Herb Brooks.
Growing up, Jonny’s room was decked out in maroon and gold, pledging his Minnesota Gopher allegiance while Michael was indifferent to “choosing sides.”
So how did they ultimately choose which sweater to wear in college?
“They both got to make their decisions,” said Mike. “And they’re happy about them, so that’s all that matters.”
Jonny continues to make a pull for SCSU to his younger brothers. Texts and tweets including the hashtag “#futurehusky” are often spouted. It was a tactic that didn’t work as well on Michael.
“Playing together was really special,” said Jonny. “When he went to the Gophers I was kind of bummed, but he made his decision. In the end, I’m still proud that he was able to take hockey to that next level of Division I no matter where it was.”
Michael notes that Jonny’s persuasion is already working on Easton.
“I know he wants to go to St. Cloud because Jonny’s there,” Michael said. “He really looks up to Jonny, like we all do, but because they’re both forwards I think there’s that extra pull over me.”
Siblings naturally develop rivalries. Jonny and Michael took that term to another level.
The two faced off for the first time last season in the North Star College Cup — the new annual tournament featuring all five of the state’s Division I teams — and then in the NCAA West Regional final.
Tensions were high.
“Playing against him, there are so many mixed emotions,” said Michael. “I really want him to succeed but I have to push myself to do the same. At the end of the day, I look out for my team and he looks out for his, and it won’t change our relationship because of that.”
He wasn’t the only person struggling with it.
“It’s horrible,” said Kathy. “I couldn’t cheer for anybody. I didn’t know what a good outcome would be … I just prayed nothing happened when they’re both on the ice. One of their successes will mean that the other one is not successful.”
In the end there could only be one successor. Michael and the Gophers pulled out the 4-0 win to advance to the Frozen Four. But a viral photo of Michael hugging Jonny in the handshake line illustrated it best.
“It sucks, especially losing to rivals like the Gophers,” Jonny said of the NCAA tournament. “But for the game it was a special moment and one I’ll never forget. (After the game) I told him good luck and I know you’ll do great. I told him to win it now because you beat me. ‘Now you have to win.’”
Mike said it’s something he and his wife have stressed to the boys throughout their lives: support each other through wins and losses.
“They wish they were playing together but there comes a point where you have to do what you have to do for your team,” said Mike. “Jonny understood that was a part of it. He would have liked to have won, of course, but when he didn’t and (Michael did) he threw his support behind them.”
Good game or bad, Jonny and Michael have each other’s back the same way they did when they were young.
“After he has a good game he’ll text me and let me know how it went and I’ll congratulate him,” said Michael. “And when I have a good game he’ll do the same.”
Mom and dad are handling it the best they can, too, rotating shifts at Mariucci Arena and Herb Brooks National Hockey Center during home weekends. This year, there are only five overlapping home games for the two schools.
“I wish the Big Ten and NCHC would have consulted with me before making their schedules,” joked Kathy. “I don’t know when the last time was that Mike and I were able to watch a game of theirs together — but we make it work.”
And the demeanor Kathy sees from both of her boys has her beaming with not Gopher nor Husky pride, but Brodzinski pride.
“Honestly, I’m more proud of my boys off the ice than on the ice,” she said. “Their character and just who they’ve become, I’m so proud of it.”
But this instate rivalry may not end after college. It may be destined for the West Coast. Michael was drafted in the fifth round (No. 141 overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by San Jose. Jonny was taken seven picks later (No. 148) by Los Angeles.
“I hope I win the Stanley Cup first,” said Michael.
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