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College men's hockey: Two brothers, same talent on defense

When the Gawryletz boys are home during the summer, folks in Trail, British Columbia, often have a tough time telling them apart. Travis, 22, is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds and has black hair. Brandon, 24, is 6-0 and 204 pounds and has black hair. Bo...

When the Gawryletz boys are home during the summer, folks in Trail, British Columbia, often have a tough time telling them apart.

Travis, 22, is 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds and has black hair. Brandon, 24, is 6-0 and 204 pounds and has black hair.

Both are senior defensemen in Division I hockey, Travis at Minnesota Duluth, Brandon at Alaska Fairbanks.

"It's pretty funny because people mistake us for each other all the time,'' Brandon said this week.

Hair helps make the distinction a little easier -- Travis wears his almost shoulder-length with a bit of a beard, while Brandon's is much more closely cropped.

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The boys, who are the only children of Tom and Sherri Gawryletz, were coached by their dad at the youth level and had an early idea about their position.

"My dad had been a defenseman and we looked up to him. It's not that we didn't have a choice; it was what we wanted to do,'' said Travis, an eighth-round pick by Philadelphia in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Because of a two-year age difference, the brothers didn't play on the same team until by design in 2003-04. After skating for Langley, British Columbia, Brandon asked to be traded back to the hometown Trail Smoke Eaters of the British Columbia Hockey League to be with his brother.

That season, Travis had 34 points (10 goals) and Brandon 33 points (six goals). Tom Gawryletz played for Trail from 1974-79.

Although goals haven't been as plentiful this season, assistant captain Travis Gawryletz has been at his best the past few weeks, UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. In the team's last series, at Wisconsin on Feb. 1-2, Gawryletz scored his first goal of the season in a 3-1 loss and assisted on Jordan Fulton's overtime winner the next night.

"Travis has been playing very steady, solid hockey, and is making good decisions with the puck and providing good leadership,'' Sandelin said. "He's a very good skater and shoots the puck as well as any of our defensemen."

A nagging groin injury has plagued Gawryletz all season, but he says stretching and strengthening exercises have helped. His playing minutes are expected to increase starting today in a Western Collegiate Hockey Association series at Michigan Tech, because star defenseman Jason Garrison is sidelined with a broken leg.

More ice time would come on power plays, although Gawryletz said he won't be changing his game.

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"Everyone likes to get points, but playing solid defense is still my role. I'm happy doing what I do best, blocking shots and killing penalties,'' Gawryletz said. "I'm not going to try to do things outside my role.''

UMD (11-9-6) is tied for No. 8 in the PairWise Rankings and is No. 1 in Division I in penalty-killing efficiency. The Bulldogs are sixth in the WCHA with eight games left in the regular season.

Fairbanks (8-16-4) is ninth in the 12-team Central Collegiate Hockey Association under first-year coach Doc DelCastillo, a former St. Cloud State and Nebraska-Omaha assistant. Today and Saturday, Fairbanks is home against No. 11 Notre Dame on senior sendoff weekend. Tom Gawryletz (who works in real estate) and Sherri (a high school counselor) will be making the trip.

The brothers are similar defensemen, at least statistically. Travis has five points in 26 games, and Brandon has three points in 28 games. As four-year players, Travis has played in 130 games (the most on UMD's team this season) and Brandon 123 (third-most at Fairbanks.)

"Travis is more of a skating defenseman, who is exciting to watch. I'm more stay-at-home,'' said Brandon, who says the brothers talk about once a week to see what's new on and off the ice.

UMD captain Matt McKnight has roomed for four years with Gawryletz, who has an interest in Harley motorcycles and sports a dark, World Wrestling Entertainment facial look. McKnight said Gawryletz displays leadership during practice, games and lighter moments with the team.

"You'd be hard pressed to find a guy who works any harder in practice or games, but he's really a pretty shy guy,'' McKnight said. "What he does is make everyone on our team feel welcome because he gives everyone grief.''

Travis Gawryletz will graduate in May with a degree in business organizational management. Brandon Gawryletz is majoring in criminal justice.

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