ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Rust and his little brother Bryan have fought over plenty of things during the past 18 years. But none of them, it’s safe to say, have been as big as a national championship.

And they’re just a step away from meeting once again.

The anticipation started just after the Michigan hockey team punched its ticket to the Frozen Four with a 2-1 victory over Colorado College.

“As soon as I found out they won, I sent him a fast text, ‘Hope I’ll see you in St. Paul,’ ”said Bryan, a freshman forward for Notre Dame.

The following night, the Fighting Irish finished off New Hampshire to capture the Northeast Regional.

“Matt wrote back, ‘Congrats, you’ll get your chance in a few weeks, bro.’ ”

Both teams have a game to win in St. Paul before the Rusts can meet again, but Matt and Bryan know just what this week means to their family. The boys are eyeing the championship game as the perfect way to complete a roller-coaster season, on and off the ice.

The Bloomfield Hills, Mich. natives saw their lives come to an abrupt halt when their father, Steve Rust, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Matt said his relationship with his brother is on a “manly level,” but admitted that the cancer brought the Rust family to its knees.

After months of treatment, Steve is reportedly in remission. He spoke at the Michigan hockey team’s banquet last Saturday and will be in attendance at the Frozen Four.

“He’s given my brother and I a lot of strength, just that the guy never complains,” Matt said of his father. “He loves his kids and his family more than anything in the world, and I think me and my brother really feed off that.”

The relationship with their father has built Matt and Bryan into the hockey players they are today.

“We’re very competitive, my brother and I, anything from the golf course to video games to mini sticks when we were younger,” Matt said Wednesday. “It’s one of the things that has brought us so close and has pushed both of us to the point that we’ve gone.“

And although Michigan and Notre Dame have already played each other three times this season, there was a time when the Rusts didn’t know if they’d face one another.

Instead, they thought they might be playing together.

Until Bryan committed to Notre Dame, even Michigan coaches thought they had the inside track on him.

“It was between Notre Dame and Michigan the entire time,” Bryan said. “I knew I wanted to stay in the CCHA to be closer to home, which is a big part of me, but I’d been playing on the same teams as my brother, so I wanted to get out of the shadow a bit and forge my own path.”

But somehow, Bryan’s path still looks a whole lot like Matt’s.

Matt came in with a freshman class of 12. So did Bryan.

Matt is listed at 5-foot-10, 194 lbs. Add three pounds and you have Bryan.

And Matt’s rookie season ended at the Frozen Four. Hello, Fighting Irish.

But these brothers aren’t quite carbon copies. There’s still a bit of a little-brother complex.

“Every time there’s a possibility of playing your older brother, it means something, especially playing for a national championship,” Bryan said.

Matt wants to make sure his Wolverines finish some business left undone after Michigan’s loss to Notre Dame in the 2008 Frozen Four.

“At the end of the day, I’m going to take my time here to be a little selfish,” Matt said with a laugh. “I think this is my time, and I hope my brother can respect that.”

Plus, it sounds like he also has a little unfinished business with his brother.

“I saw (Bryan) during the pregame skate firing slap shots at the Michigan sign,” Matt said Wednesday. “It’s in good fun, and he’s definitely going to get it back either on the ice or the golf course this year.”

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