December 23, 2012

From NEHJ: Two of a kind

By  Mike Zhe

The Menard brothers — Jeff and Chris —  starred at Governor’s Academy before
taking their talents to Trinity.

On New Year’s Eve last season, Trinity College forward Chris Menard (Burlington, Mass.) enjoyed his most productive game ever, netting his first career hat trick in an 8-3 rout of Nichols.

The next time the Bantams played, two days later, his twin brother, Jeff, pumped in three goals for the first time in his career in a 4-3 win against Lake Forest.

With the Menards, seniors born two minutes apart, coincidence has long been the new normal.

“One football game (in prep school), Chris caught a long touchdown pass,” said their father, John Menard. “The very next time they got the ball, they ran the same play to the other side and Jeff caught a touchdown.

“Growing up, they were always a half-inch apart in height, never more than a couple pounds apart. That was the thing — you knew which one was which based on where they played.”

Chris, a forward since he first laced up the skates at age 3, and Jeff, a converted defenseman, share everything from a passion for hockey to a major to a body size to a set of friends. In three years, the 5-foot-10, 175-pound Chris has 23 goals and 29 assists for 52 points. Jeff, who’s the exact same size, is at 21-29-50.

“To be honest, there’s not a lot of difference,” said Trinity coach Matt Greason (North Bridgton, Maine). “They’re both very quiet but they both lead very much with their passion on the ice. Chris gets to the net a little more. He’s played forward his whole life. Jeff got converted.”

“We have differences,” said Chris, the older of the brothers by two minutes. “But again, we’re at the same college. We’re both economics majors. We have pretty much the same friend groups because we hang out with the hockey team.”

There are plenty of reasons — different reasons — to expect Trinity (3-0-1) to make a move up in the NESCAC this winter, and the Menard brothers are two of them. But flash backward four years and it wasn’t a given that either of them would be coming to the Hartford, Conn., school.

Coming out of Governor’s Academy, the two wanted to continue their hockey careers at the Division 3 level, but weren’t necessarily looking to stay together. Each put together his own wish list.

“As we were looking at schools, our lists were almost entirely different,” said Jeff. “Trinity was the one school that overlapped.”

“Up until a couple of days before they chose, we thought Chris might go up to Bowdoin and Jeff might go to Middlebury,” said John Menard.

It was a call from former Trinity coach Dave Cataruzolo that helped make up their minds. He told them that wherever they ended up, they should stick together. They did.

But even with strength in numbers, there were adjustments. For Jeff, it was making the switch from defense to forward as a sophomore.

“That was the first time we played together on a line,” said Jeff.

In the August before their junior year, Cataruzolo left Trinity to take a job as director of hockey operations at Harvard. Greason, who was a Trinity assistant involved in the recruiting of the Menards before leaving to spend two years as an assistant coach with the U.S. National Team Development Program, was hired to replace Cataruzolo barely a month before the 2011-12 season began.

Predictably, the Bantams struggled last year, particularly early on, going 2-5. They finished 9-13-2 (6-10-2 NESCAC), settled for seventh place and lost at No. 2 Bowdoin in the conference quarterfinals.

This year could be a different story. Only four players managed double-digit points a season ago — including the Menards — and three of them return. The defense in front of goalie Ben Coulthard (South Windsor, Conn.), while youngish, could be a big asset. The power play needs to produce more than it did a year ago, when it clicked just 10 times in 92 chances.

“Definitely, we’re more prepared,” said Jeff. “Last year we were doing as much as we could as a group, lifting and being on the ice. But we were kind of in limbo, with not knowing who our coach was going to be, not having that figurehead at the top of the program. That made it tougher.”

Jeff led the Bantams last year in goals (12), power-play goals (three) and penalty minutes (35). Chris was tops in assists (16), points (27) and game-winning goals (three). Like they did last year, the twins will play on a line with classmate Jordan So, who posted 7-6-13 totals last year.

“He fits right in with them,” said Greason. “They’re a fast line, but very physical as well. … They’re simple hockey players. They love the competitive battles. They don’t lose many battles.”

There is also a third Menard brother — Zack, who is 10½ months older than the twins — who is a senior defenseman at Skidmore College. Trinity and Skidmore don’t play this season, which means another year of splitting up on weekends for John and Terese Menard, who typically assign themselves to one team’s games.

“Our biggest influence was our parents,” said Chris. “They came to all our games, did all the stuff hockey parents do. They did whatever they could to get us to where we are in hockey now.”

Now, it’s Chris and Jeff — both captains — that the rest of the Bantams are looking up to.

“They’re both in leadership positions on this team,” said Greason. “They’re that model that we’re trying to produce at Trinity. They get here early and stay late. They work as hard as anybody and have a great passion for the game of ice hockey.”

Chris and Jeff Menard shared — and still share — a lot of interests, including sporting interests. But the one that’s always been at the top of that list has been hockey.

“I always knew they were hockey players,” said their father. “The lacrosse stick would only be used two weeks before the season started. It was always hockey, hockey, hockey.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @MikeZhe603