MINNEAPOLIS -- The man known in Minnesota hockey circles -- especially along that stretch of I-94 that runs between Minneapolis and St. Cloud -- as “Big Mike” Brodzinski had a quick answer when asked what he would wear to the rink this weekend.
Mike’s son Easton and the St. Cloud State Huskies will face Mike’s son Bryce and the Minnesota Gophers in a pair of games, creating a kind of loyalty dilemma in the Brodzinski household. Put on either black and red or maroon and gold and you are alienating half the family. So what would Mike wear to 3M Arena at Mariucci on Friday, and to the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center on Saturday?
“Khakis,” he deadpanned.
Big Mike has been there before. Less than a decade ago, his son Jonny lined up against his son Michael when the former was a Husky and the latter was a Gopher. For some parents, this rare chance to watch your children square off versus one another would be relished, and circled on the calendar for months in advance. But the Brodzinski patriarch admitted that he’s most looking forward to the Saturday postgame, when family can gather and he can give both Easton and Bryce a hug, no matter what the scoreboard says.
“I don’t like it. I didn’t like it when Jonny and Michael played. One of them’s got to lose and you don’t like that anytime,” Big Mike said. “But they’ve got to do their jobs too, and just play. Let the chips fall where they may.”
This rivalry’s other set of siblings -- Nick Perbix of the Huskies and his brother Jack of the Gophers -- is not talking. Meeting with reporters this week, Jack admitted that there is radio silence between the Perbix boys that can last for days and even weeks before and after a head-to-head meeting. For the Brodzinskis, things are notably different.
“Me and my brother are pretty close. I talk to him pretty much every day,” Bryce said. “Maybe by Thursday or Friday I’ll cut ties with him a little bit, but until then we’ll be pretty close.”
Recovery, with some razzing
In late March while playing in the NCAA regional for the Huskies in Albany, N.Y., Easton suffered a devastating broken leg. It happened on a Sunday, as SCSU was beating Boston College to advance to the Frozen Four. Easton had surgery that same day, and didn’t get back home to Blaine, Minn., until later in the week. His road back to the ice was lengthy and difficult, but he had lots of support and encouragement -- not always the sympathetic kind -- along the way.
“I was never sentimental with him. I was always the one telling him, ‘You’ve got to walk normal,’” Bryce said. “I was kind of taking my dad’s side, because my dad was hard on him, telling him he had to get going before the season started. I was always hard on him, telling him he was milking his injury, even though I knew he wasn’t. He was going through one of the hardest injuries to come back from.”
In the Huskies’ season-opener versus St. Thomas on Oct. 2, six months and three days past the injury, Easton not only played, he scored, twice. Big Mike admitted he went to the upper corner of the Huskies rink for a little privacy, so fewer friends would see him, “crying like a baby.”
“I always give him a hard time, so when he scored those goals I texted him and said, ‘See, you’re not hurt,’” Bryce said, with a grin.
Eyeing a big year
If the Gophers’ opening weekend, in which Bryce scored three goals, is an indication, fans may see a version of the youngest Brodzinski boy that they last saw in high school. As a senior at Blaine in 2018-19, Bryce played for Omaha in the USHL before and after the prep season and put up 17 points in 19 games for the Lancers. With the Bengals, he averaged better than three points per game, winning the Mr. Hockey Award and being named USA Today’s national athlete of the year in all sports.
The transition to the speed and style of the Big Ten has taken some time, but Bryce’s numbers increased in his first two seasons, and he got hot at the right time for the Gophers in March, scoring in three straight games on the way to the Big Ten tournament title.
“We brought him in as a true freshman. We had to kind of transition back when we got started. That probably hurt him a little bit early but it won’t know because you play catch-up and he’s played a lot of hockey for us,” said Gophers coach Bob Motzko, who has been friends with Big Mike since they were collegians at St. Cloud State, and recruited both Jonny and Easton to play for the Huskies.
“This is exactly what we needed from Bryce to get off to a good start, get confidence offensively. But that’s what it is, right now. It’s a start. And we need more consistency. That’s the big thing upperclassmen have to establish,” Motzko said, during this week’s episode of The Rink Live podcast. “We know he’s a typical Brodzinski, put on this planet to score. He’s done it in the past.”
Friday’s game will be the just the second time Bryce and Easton have played against each other (the Gophers won 4-1 in Minneapolis on Jan. 29, 2019), and Saturday will be Bryce’s first chance to skate on the rink where he watched Jonny and Michael face each other years ago.
“Going to the games when my older brothers played against each other was the best time ever,” Bryce said. “I’ve never had a chance to play at the Herb, and those were the best games ever to watch, St. Cloud versus Minnesota at the Herb, so I’m excited to go play there.”
Whatever colors Big Mike decides to wear, he will certainly be rooting for at least one player from each team, depending on which lines are on the ice.