Frozen Four: Minnesota Duluth's Anderson brothers bring competitive spirit to search for championship
Joey and Mikey Anderson call it sting pong, a testosterone-fueled improvisation that raises the stakes and pain threshold for an ordinary game of table tennis.
Multiple players try to keep the ball in play. Failure mandates one pull up his shirt so another can whack the ball as hard as he can into bare skin. One bloody match in 2014 became part of family lore after the teenagers brawled at their sister's high school graduation party.
The incident heightened a sibling rivalry that burns hot on the ice as the brothers try to lead the University of Minnesota-Duluth to a college hockey championship starting with Thursday night's Frozen Four semifinal against Ohio State at Xcel Energy Center.
Sami Anderson was more amused than humiliated that rainy afternoon when her younger brothers rolled around the garage floor.
"Joey was mad Mikey slammed one shot too hard and started chasing him around the table," she recalled. "Mikey trips and ends up on the ground. They're throwing punches. Someone jumped on Joey's back before he was about to really nail him, then Mikey hauls off and hits him; made really good contact.
"My dad comes in, yelling, 'That's enough! You're making a scene!' Everyone was mortified watching this happen. I was laughing in the corner. I thought it was hysterical."
Joey suffered a cut above one eye. Mikey claimed it was all in self-defense. Within 15 minutes, they hugged it out and the party resumed.
So it goes for teammates and roommates born 11 months apart. They set the tone for physical play at both ends of the ice and live together like an old married couple, refusing to give an inch retrieving a puck or running the household.
Joey Anderson, a sophomore, is a gritty forward who mucks in the corners and crashes the net for rebounds. He is fourth on the Bulldogs with 27 points.
West Region Champs! https://t.co/IMtYUH46CN— UMD Men's Hockey (@UMDMensHockey) March 25, 2018
Mikey Anderson, a freshman defenseman, relishes opportunities to rub out opponents along the boards but also has a deft touch with the puck, ranking third with 23 assists.
They morphed into their respective roles playing in the backyard rink their father, Gerry, constructed every winter as soon as the Anderson boys could lace up their skates.
Joey was the puck hog and ran his playmaking through Mikey, the undersized defender who learned how to steal it from his older brother.
This season marked the first time the brothers played together since 2013-14 at Hill-Murray High School.
Joey spent two years playing for USA Hockey's National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Michigan, before heading to Duluth and playing in the 2017 Frozen Four, where UMD lost to Denver in the championship game.
Mikey played juniors last year in Waterloo, Iowa, of the United States Hockey League. Earlier this year the Andersons played for Team USA and won a bronze medal at the World Junior Championship.
"It's incredible," Joey said Wednesday during a joint interview. "Going through the Frozen Four last year, you're never sure it would happen again. It feels like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. To be able to do it again with Mikey has been incredibly fun."
They essentially were a package deal in coming to UMD although former Bulldogs assistant coach Derek Plante said Joey and Mikey were recruited on their own merits.
It’s go time boys ... pic.twitter.com/Wn8OcoezO9— UMD Athletics (@UMDBulldogs) March 25, 2018
The Andersons would text Plante after UMD victories exclaiming "We won!"
"They were fired up to be Bulldogs," Plante said. "I don't think I ever saw or talked to them when they weren't laughing or having a good time or wearing Bulldog gear. They were proud to be Bulldogs before they were even Bulldogs."
Gerry Anderson acknowledged his sons' early commitments were nerve-wracking. But the boys never wavered, and the results have validated their decisions.
"We've been lucky to have so much success up there," Gerry Anderson said.
Gerry grew up in Duluth and played hockey at St. Scholastica, from where Sami just graduated. His father, Tom, played one season for the Bulldogs in 1952-53.
There were regular visits up north. Still, the Anderson brothers grew up in the Twin Cities mostly as Minnesota Gophers fans.
But UMD coach Scott Sandelin's son Ryan played on a summer team Gerry Anderson coached with Mikey. The families grew close. The Andersons loved Duluth and fell for the Bulldogs' hard-nosed style of play.
It did not take long for the brothers' competitiveness and passion to surface. At the Bulldogs' first practice in October, the pair went into the corner for a puck and, well, you can guess what happened next.
"Those guys are pretty insane when they go against each other," noted UMD defenseman Scott Perunovich. "I remember the first battle they had they ended up throwing down right there on the ice. I had to go in there and break it up."
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First practice was a defining moment. But the brothers insist they have toned down the fisticuffs.
"When we were younger, whenever there was a disagreement, it always ended with a fight one way or the other," said Mikey Anderson. "As we've grown, we've become way better than that. We won't physically fight anymore but we'll bicker and then once one of us realizes that we're wrong, it's like, OK, let's move on."
About that competitive drive, Gerry Anderson throws it at the feet of his wife, Dana.
"She was a professional racquetball player; she's the worst loser I've ever met, and she won't be offended I said that," Gerry said with a laugh. "Everything in our house was just very competitive. And between the boys, there's the brother factor."
Back on campus, they share cleaning duties. Mikey cooks and also is the interior decorator.
"Mikey's kind of the fashion guy," Joey said. "He'll be like, 'I think we should move this couch over here and put the TV here.' "
"So I'm in charge," Mikey interjects.
"I have the title of being in charge because I'm older," Joey counters. "He runs everything but I'm the overhead."
They laugh knowingly at a question that might never be resolved. Both, however, are resolved to making it to the NHL.
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There is a long road ahead, but Mikey and Joey are padding their resumes with international experience and national title hunting that all college players covet.
In 2016, Joey was drafted in the third round by the New Jersey Devils. A year later, Mikey went in the fourth round to the Los Angeles Kings.
"Playing college hockey is a great accomplishment, but our goal is to play in the NHL, so it's nice to be able to go through it with someone else who shares those goals and believes," said Joey.
It would be a mutual dream come true but also one that could keep the close-knit brothers playing far apart for bicoastal franchises. That is a lot of distance between rivals.
"There is a silver lining," said Gerry Anderson. "We would be able to watch both games. One starts at 6 o'clock and the other at 9."
This article is written by Brian Murphy from St. Paul Pioneer Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.