MINNEAPOLIS — What happens when brothers are wedged apart by circumstance and pitted against one another?
Jake and Max Gardiner are about to find out.
Jake is a 20-year-old junior defenseman and assistant captain for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team who grew up in Minnetonka, Minn.
Max is an 18-year-old freshman winger at Minnesota, which hosts the Badgers in a WCHA series at Mariucci Arena Friday and Saturday night.
It marks the first time the brothers — highly regarded NHL prospects who wore the same uniforms from youth teams to high school — have been on opposing sides aside from a random pick-up game.
"It's foreign ground for us," their father, John, said this week.
"We did everything together in high school," Max said. "We've always been competitive with each other, but it will be weird."
The Gardiners — including mother Jill and younger sister Paige — knew this day was coming.
Jake ended up at UW in part because he wasn't recruited by the Gophers, who failed to project his vast potential until it was too late and saw him chosen by Anaheim in the first round of the NHL entry draft in 2008.
Max was recruited hard by the Badgers but decided to stay put for several reasons, not the least of which was his affinity for the legendary program located 20 minutes from the Gardiner home.
"He always wanted to play in Minnesota, always wanted to be a Gopher," Jake said of his brother, who was a third-round NHL draft pick by St. Louis earlier this year. "Obviously he'd like to play with me, but part of that was being in my shadow, I guess, and wanting to start his own career and be closer to home.
"Having your best friend and your brother playing with you would be awesome, but I just wanted what's best for him."
It's rare to see brothers square off on behalf of different WCHA programs, but it's happened before. The most notable example for Badgers fans came in 1989-90 when Rob Granato, then a freshman winger with Colorado College, faced older brother Don, a junior winger at UW. They scored goals in the same period of a Feb. 10 game at the Dane County Coliseum in 1990. Rob subsequently transferred to UW and finished his college career with the Badgers in 1994.
UW coach Mike Eaves missed facing his younger brother in college by a year — Mike played for the Badgers, Murray for Michigan — but they later went head-to-head in the pros.
"Murray beat me in our first professional face-off and he remembers that to this day, beating the older brother," Mike said with a laugh.
Mike Eaves knows how Jake feels heading into a weekend defined not only by a sibling rivalry, but by one between the schools that has roots dating to 1922.
"It's kind of cool to see him out there," Eaves said. "At the same time you don't want to lose in anything to him."
Max, who wears No. 22 and is listed at 6-foot-2 and 187 pounds, was asked what intrigues him most about facing his older brother, who wears No. 19 and goes 6-2 and 193.
"Seeing how we react when one hits the other," he said. "If I hit him, he'll want to get me back."
It remains to be seen how much ice time the brothers will actually share. Jake, who has the best plus-minus ratio in the league at plus-10, is a 30-minute workhorse who plays in all situations. Max is a fourth-liner who has skated in three of the first eight games.
"It's going to be a battle," Jake said. "I'm not going to take it easy on him or anything. I'm sure he won't take it easy on me, either."
Up in the stands, mom and dad will watch with obvious pride and subtle anxiety.
"This is going to be pretty special," John Gardiner said.
"I know my mom's hoping we stay away from each other," Max said.
A rivalry that includes 11 NCAA titles (six by UW) and 254 meetings (Minnesota leads 154-84-18) now has another story line.
"It's just another game against the Gophers," Jake said, "but it's something special."