Gillanders cousins relive childhood in college

Baylee Gillanders plays for the Gophers while her cousin plays for Minnesota-Duluth.

Minnesota senior Baylee Gillanders moves the puck on Saturday at Ridder Arena.

Ichigo Takikawa, Daily File Photo

Minnesota senior Baylee Gillanders moves the puck on Saturday at Ridder Arena.

Betsy Helfand

Baylee and Brienna Gillanders grew up playing hockey together.

This weekend, the cousins will be on opposite ends of the ice as Baylee suits up for Minnesota and Brienna for Minnesota-Duluth.

This isn’t the first time the two have gone toe-to-toe on the ice — both are seniors. But Brienna Gillanders admitted it’s still strange playing against her cousin.

The cousins grew up together on a farm in Kyle, Saskatchewan, in houses separated by a garage. That made for a lot of cousin bonding time.

“We were with each other unless it was suppertime at home,” Baylee said. “We were attached at the hip for a lot of our younger years.”

That meant the two rode the bus to school together, sat near each other in classes, ate lunch together and, of course, played hockey together.

The Gillanders started playing hockey at a young age, which is fairly typical in Canada.

“It’s what people do [in Canada], boys or girls,” said Gophers head coach Brad Frost, who grew up in Canada. “You’re not born with skates, although it’s pretty close.”

It’s no different in the Gillanders family.

“Everyone that’s a Gillanders grew up playing hockey,” Brienna Gillanders said. “It’s just the way we were brought up.”

Baylee Gillanders’ older brother and sister played hockey at Division I schools, and Brienna Gillanders’ three siblings are also hockey players.

Though she had siblings and cousins playing the sport, Baylee Gillanders said she initially resisted it.

“I was a young girl,” she said. “I didn’t like to be cold. I didn’t want to put on all the equipment.”

Baylee Gillanders said the two started skating around the same time, but because of her hesitance, Brienna Gillanders began playing hockey earlier.

Baylee Gillanders’ mother eventually managed to push her into the sport, and she started playing with her cousin. And the two played together up until 12th grade.

Though the two play different positions — Brienna Gillanders is a forward, Baylee Gillanders a defenseman — the Bulldogs player said it was an advantage for both of them growing up and playing together.

“We pushed each other to be better and motivated each other,” Brienna Gillanders said.

Then in 12th grade, Baylee Gillanders went to the Warner Hockey School and Brienna went to the Athol Murray College of Notre Dame.

Brienna Gillanders said the two wanted to go to the same college but Baylee Gillanders’ heart was with Minnesota and hers was with Minnesota-Duluth.

Now, the former teammates are on rival teams and get to play each other four times a season.

“When we’re opponents, it’s game time, and we both have our game faces on,” Brienna Gillanders said. “I play against her like I play against any other player on the ice.”

Baylee Gillanders said the two try to avoid the rivalry talk off the ice.

The Gophers have won back-to-back national championships and are currently the No. 1 team in the nation.

“I don’t want to bug her about it, because I wouldn’t want her bugging me about it if they were on top,” Baylee Gillanders said.

Both said having each other on the opposite end of the ice gives them an added bit of motivation, but they said the family support hasn’t wavered because the two wear different logos.

“[Our families] are so supportive of us,” Brienna Gillanders said. “Her family supports me, and my family supports her.

“It’s just one big family together helping each other become better people and, obviously, better hockey players.”