Thursday night’s contest at Black Hills Arena probably didn’t seem that special to most people: a nondescript inter-division matchup between the Dakota Jackalopes and New York Night, two sub-.500 teams without a meaningful rivalry. But for Robert and Mary Brooks, this was a game that they have waited years to witness. For the first time, the Brookses got to see their sons, Charlie and Tanner, play against each other at the professional level.
“We spent so many years praying for this day,” said Robert. “At times, it felt like it would never get here. But now it’s here, and we’re so blessed to be able to share it.”
There wasn’t much on-ice sibling rivalry for the Brooks boys when they were younger, as Charlie was seven years older than Tanner. Apart from occasional neighborhood games of shinny, they never played against one another. “Charlie was Tanner’s idol growing up,” explains Mary. “Everything he did, Tanner wanted to do too.”
When Charlie signed with the SHL in 2015, Tanner wanted to do the same as soon as he was able. Charlie talked up his younger brother at every opportunity, and in 2017 at age 20, Tanner signed a minor-league deal with the Saskatchewan Shockers. Tanner quickly impressed with his strong two-way play, but found himself blocked by a logjam at center. His older brother frequently texted encouragement, sending pictures of SHL rinks and locker rooms with captions like, “can’t wait to see u here!”
Finally, last season, Tanner was dealt to Dakota, and got his shot at the SHL at last. Naturally, their parents couldn’t wait to see the brothers face off, even though they were in different divisions (Charlie was with Washington at the time). But the fates conspired against them. Dakota and Washington faced each other just a couple days after the trade, but Charlie was sidelined with an injury. (He took Tanner out to dinner instead.) They played again in DC a couple weeks later (a 5-3 Jackalopes win), and both brothers played, but Mary was ill and couldn’t travel.
“We were heartbroken that we missed it,” Mary said. “But [the brothers] reminded us that they’d play each other again a lot of times, and we just had to be patient.”
After Charlie was traded to New York in the offseason, the family began checking the schedule, and quickly circled this date. As the game drew closer, the family texted back and forth, making sure that nothing would derail this get-together. “I wanted to send a joke text making believe that I’d been suspended,” said Tanner, “but Charlie pointed out I’d probably give Mom a heart attack.”
The day arrived, and Robert and Mary flew in from their home in the greater Toronto area to Rapid City. Robert wore Charlie’s Night jersey, while Mary wore Tanner’s Jackalopes jersey. They also brought a couple surprise guests : the boys’ sister Claire, who is between Charlie and Tanner in age, along with her boyfriend.
“We figured if we’re going to have a family reunion,” said Robert, “why not bring the whole family?”
The Jackalopes provided the Brookses with the use of a suite for the game. “I could get used to this kind of living,” joked Robert.
As it happened, both Tanner and the Jackalopes got the better end of the matchup. Tanner scored a goal (a second-period strike on a perfect pass from RW Arkady Golynin), while Charlie got only one shot and didn’t score. Dakota, meanwhile, held off New York for the 4-3 win.
“Score one for little bro!” said Charlie graciously. “I’ve always said he’s the most talented hockey player in the family, so it’s only fitting that he won this one.”
“I would never have made it to the pros without Charlie teaching me and cheering me on,” replied Tanner. “He deserves all the credit for this.”
So does that mean he’ll let Charlie’s Night win the next one? “Not a chance,” Tanner responded without hesitation. “We may love each other, but we’re still competitors. If he wants the W, he’ll have to fight me for it.”