Longtime Boston University coach Jack Parker figured he was one of the few beings on the planet that knew exactly what was zipping through scrappy center Brad Zancanaro’s mind two years ago when his Terriers faced off against the Providence Friars.
It was Zancanaro’s first game against his identical twin brother Tony, a freshman forward for the Friars — a hyped opening matchup between the hockey-playing doppelgangers. Parker, perhaps harkening back to his Somerville days skating against his twin brother Bob, made it a point to keep the two off the ice together in that first heated pairing.
“Oh yeah … it’s even more competitive than you think,” said Parker, speaking from firsthand dealings with twin rivalries. “You would think that it would be ‘Well, if we couldn’t win then at least he won,’ and that’s true, but during the course of the game it’s even more competitive.”
“In fact, two years ago I had to try to keep them away from each other,” added Parker. “I purposely kept Brad from playing against Tony because he was getting a little too feisty with his brother.”
Perhaps Parker had gleaned some of the stories from their Trenton, Mich., upbringing, where Brad once threw Tony through a hollow wall in the second floor of their home, creating a lasting, 5-5, 170-pound Zancanaro body imprint — or one of the several good-natured, fraternal squabbles the two competitive twins engaged in over the years.
In keeping with their family mantras of hard work and responsibility, Brad and Tony were responsible for both paying for materials and repairing their mini-path of destruction — but their parents were smart enough to steer clear of their two fire-hydrant sons in the heat of battle.
“Nobody in our family would get in the middle when we were going at it,” said a laughing Brad Zancanaro of their “entanglements”. “I think our parents just figured they were better off staying out of it and letting us go.”
Much of that destructive competitive fire toward each other has subsided in their twenties, and the twins have learned to enjoy their time skating against each other — particularly this season with Brad serving as co-captain of the Terriers and Tony co-captain of the Friars.
“It’s such a great honor, especially knowing some of the names of the captains from the past,” said Brad. “There are guys on this team that could very easily be wearing this ‘C’. Guys like Freddy Meyer and Brian McConnell were great leaders and they really taught me how to carry myself, and how to show the younger guys to follow my lead.”
Perhaps an even greater honor was Tony’s ascension to captainhood in his junior year with the Friars.
“The best way to lead is by example because if you don’t do the right things, no one is going to respect you,” said Tony. “You don’t have to be the best player and get the most points, but you need to work hard at the rink and work hard at school — and never take a day off.”
The twins are so at home with their roles as two sides of the same Hockey East coin, that they can even crack a joke or two as they glide into the faceoff circle against each other — a comedy break from their otherwise feisty playing style.
“This one time, Brad and I were getting into the faceoff circle against each other and the ref started looking at both us funny … kinda glancing back and forth at us,” said Tony, widely agreed upon to be the more outgoing of the two. “So I looked up at him and said “‘My dad slept with his mom’ before he dropped the puck in the circle.”
The quick quip certainly isn’t an isolated incident for the two brothers, as teammates and close friends have seen them live in stereo and respect them for their toil on the ice and their hijinks off the sheet.
“I think he [Brad] is the hardest worker on the ice, night in and night out,” said frequent linemate John Laliberte. “He’s also the best defensive forward in the league. Seeing how hard he works out there, it makes you want to work just as hard — that’s obviously why he’s wearing the ‘C’ this year.”
“They’re kinda weird … I think all twins are weird,” added Laliberte of their personalities off the ice. “Brad is a little more reserved. I remember the first time I met Tony … I walked up to him and started talking about a story that only Brad and I knew about, and he looked at me like ‘What the heck are you talking about?’ It was pretty funny.”
All joking aside, both Zancanaros have left their imprints on their respective programs with a trademark hard-nosed style and non-stop work ethic — a pair of inner motors that no doubt come from their electrical engineer father, Peter, and nurse mother, Leslie. Both twins credit their parents with igniting the roaring fire that is evident with every pesky forecheck or body check thrown at a player twice their size.
“First of all, he’s got skill,” said Parker, ticking off the qualities that have moved the legendary coach to single Zancanaro out for his effort during several games already in this young Hockey East campaign.
“He can shoot the puck, he can move the puck, he sees thing happening clearly on the ice and has good court sense — that type of stuff. He’s also so strong on his skates and is a very physical player for his size. That thing that really sets him apart, though, is that he’s so competitive.
“He wants to be after every puck, he wants to backcheck all the time and he wins all the little battles,” added Parker. “That’s how you win hockey games … by winning those little battles.”
The BU Zancanaro has always been a two-way sparkplug for the Scarlet and White, but the scoring began to trickle down for him last season with career highs in goals (10), assists (13) and points (23) — a byproduct of skating with the top line of fellow seniors co-captain David Van der Gulik and Laliberte last season.
It has been a bit more of a struggle this season with Van der Gulik out with osteitis pubic — an inflammation of the pubic bone — and Zancanaro breaking in freshman recruits Chris Higgins, Jason Lawrence and Brandon Yip, a situation that may explain his meager total of one assist in the first three games of this season.
“I’m trying to work on putting the puck in the net a little more,” said Brad. “In the past I’ve created a lot of opportunities to score, and I’m trying to capitalize on a few more of those now. I’ve been focusing more on putting the puck on the net in practice, and hopefully I’ll see some results.”
“The one thing I’m really looking for this season is consistency,” added Brad. “I went through an eight or 10-game stretch where things were really going in for me last season, and I’d like to keep that up for the entire season.”
Also looking to put the puck in the back of the net with a little more regularity, Tony is hoping that his junior year will be the same breakthrough campaign it was for his sibling. The year started off with bit of good news when Zancanaro learned he would captain the Friars as a junior, and the challenge is on to improve on a pair of 10-point campaigns over his first two PC seasons.
Through the first six games for the surprising Friars, Zancanaro has tallied a pair of assists and holds a tenuous lead over his bro’ in the hotly-contested Zancanaro scoring derby.
“Things are going well,” said Tony. “Everyone is skating really well, and we’ve all bought into the new system. We’re having a lot of fun playing hockey right now, and it’s a different atmosphere.”
“Individually, I’d like to get a little more offensive and get back to the way I was playing in Juniors,” added Tony, who scored 143 points in 148 games for the Springfield Spirit of the NAHL during his junior hockey career. “But what’s most important is being a complete player in both the offensive and defensive zone, and being the best teammate that I possibly can be.”
While injuries and a dearth of puck luck will happen during a college hockey season, one excuse you’ll never hear from either brother is anything concerning their size. Both were adamant that their diminutive stature has never caused them to try to prove anything.
“It’s not something I even think about, to be honest with you,” said Tony, giving the identical answer that Brad had uttered earlier in the same day.
“It’s a non-issue. I’ve always been able to play the game, and I don’t think our size really matters at all.”
Perhaps it’s even an advantage?
“I think his size is a plus in a lot of ways,” said Parker. “He’s a sparkplug on the team. He gets the crowd going, he gets his teammates going and it also shows people that you don’t have to be 6-3 to play this game.”
One thing is for certain: both Zancanaro brothers play with the thumping hearts of giants.