You could say the hit had been coming for 17 years.
United States defenseman Tyler Duke sized up his brother, Michigan freshman forward Dylan Duke, for a heavy open-ice check. As Dylan crashed to the ice like a ton of bricks, Tyler skated off with satisfaction.
The hoots from Tyler’s teammates were proof he’d just scored bragging rights.
“They’ve played together most of their careers,” Michigan coach Mel Pearson said on Wednesday. “You always seem to play harder against people you know and your brothers.”
Throughout Wednesday’s exhibition between the No. 4 Michigan hockey team and the National Team Development Program, the two Dukes found themselves facing off shift after shift. And with Tyler committed to Ohio State next season, that’s bound to be a common occurrence.
The Dukes’ rivalry flared up during that hit, but its fire extends far back in their lives — just look at their basement drywall.
“We would play one-on-one for hours,” Dylan said. “… We put holes in the wall in our basement back home, I mean the house was destroyed by the time we were 10 years old.”
It’s a history that brings the Dukes closer together. Endless scrimmages and countless drills show their bond every time they take the ice. The brothers learned new skills facing each other and developed their trademark Duke physicality that sticks out whenever they take the ice.
That presence centers around the net. In the case of Dylan, he might be one of the Big Ten’s best screeners. Once he decides he wants to park in front of the net, it takes a herculean effort just to move him a foot or two. By the time a defenseman leaves him unattended to dig pucks in the corner, Dylan has already driven right back where he started.
Tyler’s skills prevent that kind of dominance — unsurprising considering how many times the brothers have squared off. He combines an imposing frame with skillful hands, meaning he’s dangerous backchecking behind his net and initiating breakouts.
The combination of those advantages threw Michigan for a loop on Wednesday. Midway through the second period, Tyler schooled fifth-year senior forward Mike Pastujov and sophomore forward Thomas Bordeleau in his own left corner. Tyler’s elusive strides kept both Wolverines guessing, and his stick work ensured their answers kept coming up wrong. With ease, he found a gap to feed his winger for a breakout.
But as the Dukes’ hockey careers have recently split apart, offseasons give them plenty of time to rekindle their rivalry. The only difference is that now they’re both older, tougher, meaner.
“We’ll be doing a random drill in the summer and they’ll just start fighting because they’re mad at each other,” United States forward Frank Nazar said about his training sessions with the Dukes. “That’s one of my favorite things about them: they love to win, they love to play and it’s just so fun to watch.”
Next season, those skirmishes will inevitably take place when the Wolverines face the Buckeyes. And with the flames of those teams’ rivalry stoked after December’s nasty series and a dead heat for this season’s Big Ten crown, the Duke brothers will only add another dimension.
A swagger that brings out big hits. A chippiness that brings out their team’s best during tired shifts. A pride that engulfs them both every time they face off on the ice.
Because at the end of the day, the stakes are higher for them — there’s bragging rights on the line:
“Obviously we came out with the win so I’d say I got the better end of it,” Duke said. “He had the bigger hit which, I probably won’t hear the end of that one for a while.”
No matter who won the first round, the rival brothers get four more chances to duke it out next season.