Listening to the brothers Biega, Alex and Michael, tell it, playing hockey for Harvard is like a skate in the park as compared with playing hockey in the back yard of their home in Pointe Claire, Quebec.
Playing hockey, that is with their younger brothers Danny, who’s a senior now at the Salisbury School, and Marc, who’s playing AAA Midget hockey in Quebec.
“Every year our dad (Peter) would make a rink in the back yard and we’d play throughout the day,” said Michael, a sophomore forward for the Crimson. “It was Danny and me against Alex and Marc … the two middle brothers versus the youngest and oldest.
Playing 2-on-2 versus, we got really competitive and that’s why we improved and began playing better hockey.
“But we didn’t often finish games because we would get into a fight or something. There definitely was a sibling rivalry.”
“We initially tried to keep score but rarely finished games because there was a serious bloody nose or somebody almost had a leg chopped off,” said Alex, a junior defenseman. “It got ferocious.
“We were pushing each other and that’s how we developed our competitive nature. Sure, it’s a game at the end of the day. But when we were playing it didn’t seem like a game. It seemed like more. The lines were drawn when somebody cried or there was a bloody nose and my parents got upset.”
Fortunately all four Biegas lived to tell about it, and in the case of Alex and Michael, two already have gone on to carve out solid careers at Harvard.
Alex is the first assistant captain since current pros Tom Cavanagh and Ryan Lannon in 2004-05.
As a sophomore, this fifth-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres earned ECAC Third Team and All-Tournament honors while as a freshman he was voted to the ECAC All-Rookie Team (he led ECAC freshman defensemen with 19 points).
Admittedly an offensive defenseman, Alex Biega’s career totals through Dec. 11 consisted of 10-35–45.
Michael twice was named ECAC Rookie of the Week and was a co-recipient of the Percy Award as Harvard’s top rookie along with Matt McCollem. Through games of Dec. 11, he’d posted 11-12–23 career totals.
Ironically, their father never played hockey but instead was into football. He played three years at Bishops University in Sherbrooke.
“At first, my mom (Peg) wanted to get us into hockey,” recalled Alex Biega. “I remember it like it was yesterday. We were five or six and we didn’t want to go to hockey and this was the first time we were going to skate.
“Mom said, ‘Try it. You might like it.’ Dad eventually made a rink in our backyard and he wound up being out there all day with us.”
Both brothers sent on to play prep school hockey at Salisbury where — surprise! — the coach was Don Donato, the younger brother of current Harvard coach Ted Donato.
“Don Donato was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” said Michael Biega.
“Once we came to Salisbury and my dad found out Don’s brother was Ted, he was happy. After being at Salisbury, it was completely different than being at home. We enjoyed hockey and also got a good education (the brothers also starred on the first Salisbury team to win a New England championship).
Which meant that regardless of what schools tried to recruit the Biegas, it almost was pre-ordained that they would enroll at Harvard. But no matter how successful the Crimson have been or will be, by the time each brother graduates perhaps the best part of the bargain is they’ve finally had a chance to play on the same team.
“I would say our family is close and very family-oriented,” said Alex Biega. “I love playing with my brother. We played together every second year from the age of six. To be blessed with this luxury of playing with your brother your whole life is great.
“It’s been a great experience so far. It’s something where people make a common mistake and don’t look at it as they should. Sometimes I have to take a step back and realize how fortunate I am to play with my brother.”
Given their close relationship — which isn’t always the case with brothers or sisters, especially those involved in sports — each accepts criticism from the other without being inclined give him the brush off.
“We play on the same power-play unit,” explained Alex Biega. “The type of power play we have, I’m on top and Mike is on a one-time spot.
“That’s always good because, since he’s my brother, I know where he likes it. It’s like using our instincts. Having played with my brother, that spot seems to click. I know where he likes it and what type of passes he likes.
“At the same time,” continued Alex, “if it doesn’t work I can get in his face and it’s not a negative response. If we’re on the ice and things aren’t going well, I’m not afraid to tell him what’s going wrong because I know the end result is going to be positive.”
The same is true off the ice, like in a weight room or a gym when the brothers are working out.
“Alex always was stronger than me and always was pushing me to get stronger,” said Michael Biega. “One day, I finally caught up to him.”
While Alex admitted he was “proud” of what his younger brother had done, there was a caveat.
“When he’s doing something, I want to do it better and the same goes for him,” he said. “I think that competition has made us both better.”
And since they’ve been on the same team, it’s guaranteed that games will be played to a conclusion instead of ending “prematurely.”