By Andy Kent
Naples Daily News
Whenever Brad Zancanaro (pictured) zips down the ice at Germain Arena, weaving through defenders with his diminutive frame then making a precision pass to one of his Florida Everblades linemates, he is looked upon as a unique talent in the ECHL.
Providence College senior forward Tony Zancanaro, also 5-foot-5 and 170 pounds, stands out among his opponents in the highly competitive Hockey East, not afraid to go toe-to-toe with players twice his size in front of the net.
The Zancanaro twins live in a parallel universe, where each has worked hard to create his own identity and find his own place inside and outside the rink. Those who know them and have gotten to play with them or see them play marvel at their tenacity and work ethic.
“I worked out with Brad and his brother over the summer at Boston University and got to know both of them pretty well,” says Everblades defenseman Chris Dyment, who began the season with Zancanaro in the American Hockey League with the Albany River Rats and was sent down to Florida at the same time.
“At first Brad comes across as quiet, but once you get to know him he’s pretty funny. He and Tony both look exactly alike, and I had a tough time distinguishing them when I got to the gym. Tony’s the spitting image of Brad on the ice, too, and with Brad, he has no quit in his game.”
At their size, there’s no room for quitters and no substitute for toughness — lessons the brothers learned at a young age when their father, Pete, introduced them to wrestling. He taught them to skate at the age of 4 in their hometown of Trenton, Mich., outside of Detroit, and looks back on tying their skates as the toughest chore.
From the first time they took the ice, Pete and his wife, Leslie, knew their sons were going to be hockey players because they fell in love with the game and played together all the way through youth hockey and up until their senior year in high school. Pete thought their size might keep them from going too far, so he wanted to give them an edge.
“When they were in high school they chose to wrestle, and wrestling is a brutal sport, and I think that really helped,” Pete says. “Wrestling really makes you tough and I think that helped, although Brad ended up breaking his wrist wrestling during practice. But both of them know they have to play their game and not think about being 5-5. They have to play like they’re 6-5 out there.”
So when they finally split up after playing center together on different teams (Brad is playing left wing for the first time this year), Brad progressed offensively while Tony honed his defensive skills at the midget level.
Brad left home to play juniors in 1999, first in the North American Hockey League with the Danville Wings, then spent a month in 2000 in the American West Hockey League before being traded to the Sioux City Musketeers of the United States Hockey League. During his second season in Sioux City, Brad scored 71 points (26 goals, 45 assists) in 50 regular-season games and added 14 points (1 goal, 13 assists) in 12 playoff games, catching the eye of Boston University head coach Jack Parker, now in his 34th season behind the bench.
“For some reason I always wanted to go out East to play, just watching during the days when Chris Drury was at BU winning the Hobey Baker and the national championship in 1995,” says Brad, who after his senior season in 2005-06 got to play in eight games for the AHL’s Lowell Lock Monsters in Massachusetts. “… I liked it from the beginning, and at BU, I learned to be an all-around player there under Parker.”
Pete counts among his most memorable moments of his son’s young career an interval two years ago during Brad’s junior year when the Terriers closed out the historic Walter Brown Arena and opened the brand new Agganis Arena on campus. The University of Minnesota was the opponent for both games. Brad scored the last goal in the old rink, then scored the first goal in the new one. That year he also had the winning goal in Parker’s 700th career win.
To commemorate the arena milestones, Pete and Leslie put together a plaque with the two pucks for Brad, who, in turn, presented it to Parker.
Two years later, Brad has established himself as a fan favorite with the Everblades. Entering Saturday night’s game at Augusta, he had 21 points (6 goals, 15 assists) in 35 games, 10th on the team.
Tony ranks third on the Friars with nine points (3 goals, 6 assists) in 25 games. Providence played Vermont on Saturday night.
“We talk to each other all the time and I guess you could say we’re best friends,” Tony says. “I was recruited by Boston University, too, but Providence recruited me a little more and I thought Providence was a better fit for me. Also, Brad and I were making our own identities so we thought it was a good choice to go to separate schools, have separate friends and just separate lives within our own.
“We were always known as the twins and we didn’t want to be thought of as that we needed to play together in order to be successful, so we’re now fans of each other and want each other to do well.”
Although reaching the NHL might seem a long shot for the twins because of their size, long odds never stopped them before. Tony thinks about how neat it would be to be reunited with his brother on the same NHL team.
Being that the two spoke one day of playing on the East Coast when they were 10 and on summer vacation in New England, and that Pete, while visiting Marco Island five or six years ago, saw an advertisement for the Everblades and imagined one of his sons playing for them, prophecy seems to be a family trait.
“The first time they went on the ice they just looked like naturals, they had that skating stride, and that was it. I thought, ‘Oh no, here we go,’¤” says Leslie. “… Now with Brad playing in Florida, I love visiting him, especially when it’s 8 degrees up here.”
Two weekends ago, Pete and Leslie took in two Everblades games at Germain Arena against the Gwinnett Gladiators, and the rest of the season they listen to or watch Brad on the Internet, doing the same with Tony’s games.
Brad shares an apartment in Boston with his girlfriend, Andrea, allowing Pete, Leslie and Tony the chance to spend some time in that city as well.
Ironically, Tony and Brad were familiar with Southwest Florida long before this season, having played in some roller hockey tournaments at Germain. They also had a friend whose parents retired and bought a place on Fort Myers Beach, so Brad doesn’t mind calling it home for now.
“I always want to play at the highest level possible, and that’s been the goal,” Brad says. “The goal is to stay in the AHL all year, but this is a great place to play if I’m not there. I have the utmost respect for the organization, it’s a great organization to be a part of, and there’s no place I’d rather be.”