Between the road trips, tough practices and living in the same dorms, the Boston University men’s hockey team forms some strong bonds with each other. You could say they’re like brothers.
Four of this year’s Terriers, however, really are brothers.
Matt and Kevin Gilroy, three years apart in age, are enjoying their first chance to play together in a league, while Victor and Vinny Saponari, also three years apart, have been reunited after two seasons on different teams.
Matt and Kevin Gilroy
“It’s pretty special this year,” said defenseman Matt Gilroy, who is joined for his senior year by his brother Kevin, a freshman forward.
The year is extra special because the two have never played on a team together.
“The last time I played with one of my brothers, I think we were mites,” said Matt, who, in his last year, will get the chance to mentor another one of his siblings.
“It’s been fun, getting to see him go through what I went through, and him asking me for advice and stuff,” he said.
Getting to finally play with his older brother was one of the big reasons Kevin came to BU.
“When [Matt] first got here, it made me really want to come here,” Kevin said. “I had a good possibility of being able to play with him, and I just jumped on the opportunity.”
Knowing what to expect out of practices, workouts, and the coaching staff from talking to Matt gave Kevin an upper hand in his first year. Matt, too, is happy with having a familiar face in the locker room.
“It’s good to have someone there, especially someone you’ve been with your whole life,” he said.
During high school, the brothers played on teams that sometimes opposed each other. Kevin went to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire, then played for the Foxboro Stars and the South Shore Kings of the Eastern Junior Hockey League, while Matt played at St. Mary’s High School in Manhasset, N.Y., and spent time with the EJHL’s Walpole Jr. Stars.
“It was awkward, because you were playing against someone you grew up with,” said Kevin. “You knew exactly [what he was going to do], since we’ve been playing in the backyard since we were two or three years old.”
But now that they’re on the same side of the ice, Matt and Kevin can use that knowledge to their advantage.
“I know where he’s going to go with the puck, so I can anticipate that right now,” Kevin said.
They can also use their knowledge from playing different positions to help each other out.
“He sees what I’m doing wrong, and he gets after me,” said Matt. “It’s different getting after a brother. You can be a little meaner than you can with a regular teammate.”
There’s nothing more than friendly competition, though, and it ends when the uniforms come off.
“Training this summer, we were together every day in the gym and on the rink,” said Matt. “It made it a lot easier to train and get better.”
They’re just enjoying their time together for the year.
“It just makes it 10 times better,” said a grinning Kevin.
Victor and Vinny Saponari
Forward Vinny Saponari, a freshman, has had to play up to his brother Victor’s level since the two were young and playing hockey in the driveway.
“I think that’s one of the things that made me better,” Vinny said, “always trying to keep up with the older brother.”
“He’s right,” said Victor, a sophomore forward. “I’d be a pee-wee, and he’d be a squirt, and he’d play up with us, so he’d have to be playing better than his level, which just made him excel.”
It’s the same reason they both chose to play forward.
“Growing up and playing against each other, we always wanted to play with each other and beat the other guy out,” said Vinny.
The brothers enjoyed the competition from playing together in the same position.
“Seeing him do something a little better than you, you’ve got to step up your game a little bit,” said Victor. “Or if he’s kind of down on something, you can rag on him for it but pick him up and say, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do.’ Since you know, you can help.”
Unlike the Gilroys, the Saponaris are used to playing together. The brothers both attended Culver Military Academy, although they did play on different teams as kids.
“We liked being on the same team, but being on different teams kind of helped both of us in defining our roles as hockey players,” said Victor.
They are not, however, usually on the ice together.
“That would be pretty sweet,” Victor said, but they do have similar styles of play.
“We kind of think similar,” said Vinny.
“It’s kind of the way we were brought up to think the same way, being coached by the same people,” said Victor, elaborating on his brother’s point. “We anticipate the game really well…based on the way we were brought up knowing the game.”
And while he’s had his brother around for most of his career, Vinny’s glad they’re still together for support. He had been looking at BU before Victor chose to attend.
“Once [Victor] decided to go here, it gave me an option to come visit him and really see how it is,” he said. “Me being new here, it’s nice having someone I can talk to if I need something.”
But Victor knows his younger brother doesn’t need too much help.
“[Vinny] could figure things out on his own, and I understand that,” Victor said. “I kind of helped out here and there with some stuff.”
Originally published in the Boston University Terriers Men’s Ice Hockey program for the 2008-2009 season.