Harvard hockey's hat trick
Biega brothers have Crimson thinking upset at upcoming Beanpot tournament
Courtesy Gil TalbotMichael, Alex and Danny Biega are all on the same power-play line for Harvard.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- All summer, every summer, Peter and Peggy Biega's four boys divided up and went at it, two against two, competing as fiercely as they could. The oldest (Alex) and the youngest (Marc) tended to team up against the two in the middle (Michael and Danny), just to make things fair. Soccer or football or basketball -- no matter what the sport, the Biega boys would play.
"Regardless, every sport we'd play ended up in a brawl or a fight," Alex said. "It got so competitive. My mom would be screaming up on the balcony, so pissed off at us because we were way too competitive, I guess. But it was fun."
Once snow started to fall and the lake within a slap shot of their Montreal home froze thick enough, out came the skates and sticks and pucks. Hockey, after all, is what the Biega boys do best.
The three oldest Biegas will suit up for Harvard on Monday in the 58th Beanpot, the annual tournament between the four college hockey programs that play their home games within the city limits of Boston.
Alex is a senior and the Crimson captain, an offensive-minded defenseman and a regular on the power-play units. Michael is a junior and tied for the team's scoring lead while playing on the top offensive line. Danny is a freshman with so much potential the NHL is about to come calling. Any one of the three could be a hero over the next two Mondays.
It started on a rink Peter Biega built out of two-by-fours, a rink with a huge tree in the middle that could be either an advantage -- "We'd use it as a pylon," Alex said -- or a hard surface against which to throw a check. As the boys grew, Peter's rink had to grow. He expanded it as far as 60 feet by 60 feet, still well less than half the size of a regulation rink, before he ran out of lawn space.
Peter then moved his lumber out onto the lake adjacent to the Biega house -- Peggy eventually gave up on worrying that the lake was too dangerous -- and took on the task of clearing off enough snow to give his four boys room to skate.
"I think I blew two engines of snowblowers trying to clear that out," he said.
The snow drifts left behind by Peter's snowblower even made big hits a part of the fun.
"I'd tell Marc to dump it in, and then Marc would go crush Danny into the boards and start a feud," Alex said. "You're not really thinking about it. You're just having fun out there. That's usually when the best hockey comes out."
"The most fun hockey, too," Danny said.
All winter, every winter, the four Biega boys just kept right on skating -- and kept on competing, Alex and Marc against Michael and Danny, skates schussing and sticks clattering and pucks ringing off goalposts from dawn until dusk. "With an entire neighborhood plus a busy highway overlooking the lake, it wasn't uncommon for friends to show up and for the two-on-two games to grow.
"We had a great setup," Danny said. "Our dad would make us a rink in our backyard and then we'd have the lake, and then within a two-minute walk would be an outdoor rink. If for some reason on our backyard rink the ice wasn't good, we'd go to the lake and if the lake wasn't good "
BACK AND FORTH WITH THE BIEGAS
Of all of the Biega brothers, who's the best hockey player?
Alex: "Skillwise, I'd say Mike, hands-down. He's got a ridiculous amount of skill. He's probably one of the top skill guys I've ever seen with the puck. His vision and coordination and hands are just ridiculous, as good as anyone I've ever seen."
Michael: "Can we include my little brother, too? Skillwise, I'd probably say my younger brother [Marc]. He plays very similar to me, has very good hands, and he's doing really well right now. He probably has a harder shot than all of us."
Who's the best pro prospect?
Alex: "Danny. He's mature beyond his years, and he plays like a pro."
Michael: "Pro potential, I'd say Danny or Alex. They were both drafted, both really good defensemen both ways. I can't beat them one-on-one -- ever."
Danny: "If we can bring my little brother into this, he's going to be the biggest one, I think. You can't teach size. That's a factor, a very important factor. He's my size already, and he's still got a lot of growing to do."
Who was the dirtiest player on the backyard rink?
Alex: "Probably Marc."
Michael: "Alex, you've thrown a couple of sticks at "
Danny: "Actually, Al, a lot of times, is slashing "
Alex: "When I get mad, I lose it."
Danny: "Whenever Al would get mad, I used to leave the ice because I just didn't want to deal with it. When he gets mad, he just snaps. Something goes off in his head."
Michael: "That's when the game would end."
Danny: "See you later."
Of all the Biega brothers, who's the biggest rink rat?
Alex: "Me, probably."
Michael: "The kid lives here."
Who's the best skater?
Michael: "Definitely not me."
Of all the Biega brothers, who's the funniest?
Danny: "The little guy."
Alex: "Marc is hilarious. He's a clown."
Who's the smartest?
Danny, nodding toward Michael: "This guy, probably."
Alex: "Are you kidding me?"
Danny: "I think so. Most gifted."
Who's the biggest ladies' man?
Alex, after a few seconds of silence: "We all do pretty well."
Who's the most likely to be the hero at the Beanpot?
Alex: "Mike. He's our leading scorer and having a breakout year individually, so he's on the verge of his moment."
Danny: "I think Alex will be. No specific reason. I just feel it will be him."
" we had three options," Alex said, finishing the sentence of his younger brother. "We were always just surrounded by the hockey environment."
Coach Donato: 'They all push each other'
One year apart in age, Alex and Michael played on the same team every other year as they climbed the youth hockey ladder from peewees to bantams to midgets -- and eventually to Salisbury (Conn.) School, where they teamed up to win a New England prep school championship in 2006.
Never, though, had the two played organized hockey with Danny until an ambitious academic plan at Salisbury propelled the third Biega brother ahead a year and on to Harvard in time to play with his older brothers. Many college hockey prospects repeat a year upon entering prep school, but Danny took two classes over the summer and an extra class in the academic year to get to college a year earlier than he otherwise would have.
Alex was named a preseason first-team All-ECAC defenseman and has a goal and five assists this season. Michael has scored five goals to go along with 11 assists, playing this season with fellow Montreal natives Alex Killorn and Louis Leblanc on the Crimson's top line.
Danny this month was named the 31st-best North American prospect by NHL Central Scouting and likely will be a first- or second-round pick at the draft in June, the second Biega brother to be drafted. (The Buffalo Sabres drafted Alex in the fifth round four years ago.)
The three even are playing on a power-play unit together.
"They all respect each other, but they all push each other to be better," Harvard coach Ted Donato said. "They have a good understanding of when and where each one wants the puck. It's a nice opportunity. They're three good players, and that's why they're out there together. It's not because they're three brothers. We thought they're three good players that would mix well on the power play."
All that's left is for Harvard to keep on winning. Entering play Friday, the Crimson are unbeaten in their past four games but had lost six of seven before that. After a decisive season-opening win at Dartmouth on Oct. 30, the Crimson didn't win again for close to two months.
In the past two weeks, though, Harvard has beaten No. 5-ranked Yale and 13th-ranked Union and rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie Rensselaer on the road. A Beanpot title -- something the Crimson haven't won since 1993 -- wouldn't be a bad way to maintain that momentum.
Out on the ice at an early age
As so often happens, the younger brother got a raw deal when Peggy Biega signed her first two sons up for skating lessons for the first time. There was no history of hockey in the family. Peter had never played, and Peggy had "skated a little bit," but that was all. With a lake next door and the Montreal winter close to endless, Peggy had no choice but to get her boys on skates if she wanted them to get any exercise between September and June.
Alex took to it right away, cruising around the ice from the moment he laced up his skates. His younger brother did not.
"Michael, the poor thing, had no support in his skates," Peggy Biega said. "It was my fault: I put him in some old skates that somebody lent me, and there was no ankle support. The poor kid could hardly skate. That was a little traumatic, especially for a 6-year-old."
"Our parents bought us secondhand equipment, so my skates didn't have a back heel or something, so I couldn't skate," Michael said. "I got on the ice, and I would skate back and forth on the boards. I was the last one. I couldn't skate. The coach had to help me. I stormed off the ice. I hated it. I was probably in tears and I was never going to play hockey again."
It didn't take long for Michael to catch up -- nor for them to be joined by Danny and Marc, now a 15-year-old playing midget hockey back home in Montreal, climbing the same ladder his brothers climbed before him.
All four started as defensemen, but Michael made the switch to forward as a teenager thanks to what both of his parents called "beautiful hands" -- and because he couldn't stay back on defense the way his brothers could.
"I just like to rush the puck all the time," he said. "I didn't really like to stay back in my zone."
Michael was a dominant scorer from an early age. He would have tallied 100 points in a season as a 14-year-old if not for an ill-timed family vacation to warmer climates, the first such trip the Biegas had enjoyed since the four boys were born. He needed three points in his final game to break the century mark, but he never got the chance.
In a lot of ways, he could trace his uncanny ability to handle the puck back to the battles on the backyard rink.
"I used to toe-pull all the time, try crazy things," he said. "I'd just try crazy stuff to try to stick handle through Alex and Marc all the time. Even our basement downstairs, we used to play hockey down there. We'd play one-on-one in the small corners, and I'd try to deke them."
Alex and Danny, meanwhile, stayed back on the blue line -- as did Marc, who might end up as the best of the bunch. Alex is more of an offensive-minded defenseman, a flashy stick handler who can move the puck up the ice. Danny is more of a traditional stay-at-home defenseman than his older brother, a physical player able to bump opposing forwards off the puck.
The three might look like brothers off the ice, but they all have their own unique styles on it.
"You can dress them up and put a mask on them but, within a second, I could tell you who they are just by their styles and their skating," Peter said.
Will three Biegas equal one Beanpot for Harvard?
Danny Biega shouldn't have been able to watch the Beanpot last winter. He was still a senior at Salisbury and wasn't allowed to have a cable television in his dorm room -- but a friend of his snuck in the contraband specifically for the first-round game between Harvard and Boston University.
"It's during study hall, and it's supposed to be quiet," Danny said. "We're in a little tiny dorm room, and we've got about 16 guys, close friends, guys on the hockey team. We're all watching that game, and we're all huddled around this little TV. I remember there were about 20 seconds left in the game, and they were down by one goal. Harvard called a timeout, and I saw Alex and Mike on the camera. I could just see the last names 'A. Biega' and 'M. Biega,' and I thought that was pretty cool."
Michael had scored the first goal of the game for the Crimson, but the Terriers had rallied from the early deficit to take a 4-3 lead into the final minute. Alex ripped a slap shot that got past BU goaltender Kieran Millan and set off a wild celebration on the Harvard bench -- but the shot came just a second or two after time had expired.
"The 16 guys in that room, it was pretty wild," Danny said, "until we found out it wasn't allowed."
As it turns out, Harvard might just have been one Biega short. Should a key power-play situation arise against Boston College on Monday, Danny easily could be out there on the ice alongside his brothers. Alex and Michael have won big games together in the past, including the New England prep school championship with Salisbury, but they've never won anything with Danny.
It doesn't take much imagination to picture a storybook ending for the Biegas in the battle for bragging rights in Boston.
"I have yet to hear an announcer say, 'Goal scored by Michael Biega with an assist to Alex Biega and an assist to Danny Biega,'" Peter Biega said. "I hope that's forthcoming at the Beanpot."
Brian MacPherson is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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