For all of their 23 years, Tyson and Tylor Spink have been a package deal. So you can't blame them for thinking perhaps that should apply to the Hobey Baker Award as well.
The identical twin brothers from the small Eastern Ontario town of Williamstown rank one-two in points for the Colgate University Raiders, which play in the ECAC Hockey conference. Tyson is the leader with 27 points in 25 games, six better than his linemate Tylor, and it was his name that was included in the first round of 66 nominees for the Hobey Baker, which goes to the season's best NCAA men's player.
"I do feel a little bit guilty because I've played with Tylor so long my success is a credit to him as well," Tyson said of how he felt when he learned of his nomination.
Actually, Tylor said he's good with it for the same reason.
"Obviously I'd like to be nominated as well, but I feel like we're the same people," Tylor said. "If he gets nominated, I'm kind of getting nominated at the same time."
Also nominated for the award, which was won last year by the Buffalo Sabres' prize rookie Jack Eichel, were 14 other Canadians: Forwards Max French (Bentley University), Shane Conacher (Canisius), Danton Heinen (Denver), Alex Petan (Michigan Tech), Greg Gibson (Robert Morris), Tyler Morley (Alaska-Fairbanks), Drake Caggiula (North Dakota), defencemen Jake Walman (Providence), Luke Juha (Penn State), Brandon Denham (Robert Morris), Spencer Foo (Union), goaltenders Michael Garteig (Quinnipiac), Mitch Gillam (Cornell) and Jamie Phillips (Michigan Tech). The field will be narrowed to 10 finalists in March, then to three in April with the winner announced April 8 at the NCAA Frozen Four championship.
The Spink brothers have been on the same line since they began playing organized hockey when they were 4. There was only one brief stretch when they were separated. Nineteen years later, neither player needs to look where the other one is on the ice – they just know.
"There was one year in peewee when our coaches split us up for half a year," Tylor, the more talkative of the pair, said. "It was kind of a rough year for the team and I think the coaches wanted to change things up. It didn't do any good. Our success comes from being familiar with playing with one another. It's our advantage."
The brothers also study together. They are both education majors at Colgate in their senior year and are both on schedule to graduate in the spring.
The only major difference between them is that Tyson, a centre, shoots left while Tylor is a right-hand shot on the right wing. "Mirror-image twins," Tyson once told an interviewer. Tylor also claims to be the set-up man of the pair, since he has 16 assists this season to Tyson's 10 goals, although Tyson also has 17 assists.
"Yeah, it's pretty accurate, I guess," Tyson said of his brother's assessment. "He likes to take credit for setting me up, but we feed off each other. I don't lose sleep if he doesn't pass me the puck. This year I have more goals, but it depends year to year."
The brothers went into junior hockey as a package deal, playing for four seasons in Junior A with the Cornwall Colts of the Central Canada Hockey League before landing in 2012 at Colgate, which is near Syracuse in Hamilton, N.Y.
However, it was their friendship with Colorado Avalanche player Jesse Winchester, who also grew up in the Cornwall area, that brought them to Colgate. The Spinks met Winchester, who started his NHL career with the Ottawa Senators, about 10 years ago, when they all worked with the same fitness trainer in Cornwall. Winchester, a Colgate alumnus, spent a lot of time talking up his school.
"He's been a huge mentor for Tylor and I," Tyson said. "He showed us the ropes, convinced us to come to Colgate. He put in a good word for us. I'm glad I took his advice."
The Hobey Baker nomination is the first major individual recognition Tyson has received. Both he and Tylor are considered undersized for the NHL at 5 foot 10 and 185 pounds each and neither was drafted when they became eligible. It was a familiar slight, as neither was selected in the OHL's midget draft several years earlier, which started their focus on college hockey.
"Tylor and I weren't the biggest players, and we were late bloomers, so we didn't get drafted in the OHL," Tyson said. "We continued to work hard and try to prove people wrong. I didn't know much about the NCAA at that point, but Jesse showed me the way, said, 'You should try toward that.'"
However, they are both still hoping to play professionally and when the NCAA season is over they will be free agents. They attended the Detroit Red Wings development camp in 2014 and have drawn some interest from other NHL teams.
True to form, the brothers are hoping to stick together in professional hockey, but realize they may not become the second set of twins after Henrik and Daniel Sedin to be linemates on an NHL team.
"Our whole career we've been a package deal, so hopefully whoever offers a contract, they'll want both of us," Tylor said. "I think teams can benefit from both of us rather than trying to separate us. Ultimately, it's their decision, so we'll have to take whatever they give us."