Fraternal Forechecking

The brothers Biega planned it this way: all three are skating for the Crimson.

Hard-skating brothers Danny, Alex, and Michael Biega (left to right) spray ice chips at Bright Hockey Center.

Sibling rivalry can inspire, but sibling unanimity has some impressive virtues, too. Consider the brothers Biega—Alex ’10, Michael ’11, and Danny ’13—of Harvard’s ice hockey team. All hail from Montreal, Canada, and have been playing sports together most of their lives: ice hockey, soccer, and rowing, for example, at Salisbury School, a small, all-male private school in Connecticut with some formidable athletic teams. The Biega triumvirate all played on New England championship hockey teams there—Michael’s goal off a rebound from Alex’s shot won the school’s first title—with Alex and Danny chosen as captains and Alex and Michael successively honored as Salisbury’s athlete of the year. All three hope to play professionally in the National Hockey League (NHL). Yet the brethren aren’t clones: Alex and Danny are defensemen, and Michael’s a forward.

Danny’s new to Cambridge, but his older sibs have done damage on the intercollegiate ice for years now. Alex, this year’s Harvard captain, was named Harvard’s most valuable player last year, when he made the New England All-Star Team and the all-Ivy first team. With four goals and 16 assists, his 20 points were second on the squad, no mean feat for a defenseman. “With my stature,” he explains, laughing—at five feet 11 and 195 pounds, Alex is small for a defender—“you have to be an offense-minded defenseman.” He is the first defenseman in more than 20 years to lead Harvard in assists. (Three years ago, the Buffalo Sabres of the NHL drafted him in the fifth round; he’ll join that organization after college.)

As a freshman, Michael notched a hat trick against Yale, and last year, with six goals and 11 assists for 17 points, was right behind Alex as the team’s third-leading scorer. (Forward Doug Rogers ’10, at 8-13-21, led the Crimson.) Michael and Alex joined forces on a power-play unit that was best in the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) with 19.2 percent effectiveness, scoring 24 times in 125 chances.

The Biegas have nurtured their skills since the two eldest were seven and six years of age and their mother jolted them from their video games by announcing that she had signed them up for hockey lessons. They’d play all day long on the lake behind their house: the classic two-on-two game would pit the two middle sibs against the oldest and youngest: Michael and Danny against Alex and their fourth brother, Marc, a forward, now 15. “That’s how we fell in love with it,” says Michael. “Our friends would stop by to play.” “It got pretty competitive, too,” adds Danny. “The only reason the games would end was because there was a fight. It wasn’t because we were tired or didn’t want to play any more. Our parents would yell at us and break us apart—that’s what ended the game.”

Only one other trio of brothers has skated for Harvard: the Moores of Toronto—Mark ’00, Steve ’01, and Dominic ’03 in 1999-2000 (see “Gimme Some Moore,” March-April 2000, page 88). Like the Moores, fraternal bonds pay dividends for the Biegas. “We’re all kind of like best friends,” says Michael. “So if we’re having a rough practice, or something’s wrong, you can easily talk to them.” When playing defense in practices, “If I have a one-on-one with Mike, I think I have the advantage because I know exactly what he’s going to do,” says Danny. Michael agrees: “Whenever we drill one-on-ones, I hate when I go against them—they love to stop me.”

This year, the Biegas will apply their skills amid some fine company. The Crimson’s top seven scorers have returned, along with Kyle Richter, who led all ECAC goaltenders in 2007-2008 with a 1.82 goals-against average and .935 save percentage. Eight freshmen have arrived whom Alex calls “immediate impact players.” He adds that the “team chemistry is great. In my four years here, I’ve never seen the team this tight before.” This year’s revised academic calendar, which places exam period before the Christmas break, should also help Harvard with its January and February hockey schedule—including the annual Beanpot tournament, which tough competition and January exams have made into an elusive prize.

Last year’s Beanpot had a Biega Moment when Harvard trailed Boston University, 4-3, with only seconds left in the first game. Danny was watching on TV at Salisbury. “Harvard called a time-out,” he recalls, “and I see Alex and Mike. All I can see on the camera is M. BIEGA and A. BIEGA—they’re talking to each other. You could tell they were working up some kind of plan, some kind of play.  The puck dropped, Alex passed to Mike, Mike passed back to Alex—and he scored! I was in my dorm room with 15 or 16 other kids, who all know Alex and Mike, and the room just erupted.” As it turned out, the game clock had ticked down to 0:00 just before the goal, so it did not count and BU went on to win the Beanpot (and, later, the national championship). But the moment was electric.

The Biegas planned it this way: this year, for the first time, all three have a chance to play for the same squad. Danny Biega accelerated his graduation from Salisbury (where Dan Donato, brother of Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91, coached the two elder Biegas) with summer study and a six-course load so that he’d be able to join his brethren on the Harvard squad for one season: this one. As he says, “It’s just like we’re playing on that pond again.”

Read more articles by Craig Lambert

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