Ryan Zuhlsdorf and Tyler Nanne are both junior Gopher hockey defensemen from Edina.
But the two have very different stories when it comes to hockey.
Nanne was almost destined to play hockey, as his grandfather and father were both Gophers players from different eras. Grandfather Lou Nanne is in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and played as a defenseman with the Gophers from 1959-63, while Tyler's father, Marty Nanne, played for Minnesota as a forward from 1985-88. His cousin Vinni Lettieri graduated from Minnesota two years ago, and his brother Louis Nanne also played Division-I hockey.
"I've grown up hearing about it — what my grandfather's legacy has built in the hockey industry," Tyler Nanne said. "He's done a lot, for not only the hockey community, but for my family. And to have him by my side to teach me things, and teach me the ropes, with my dad. It's been a fun ride."
Zuhlsdorf, on the other hand, is one of the few people in his family that has played hockey. Zuhlsdorf said his father played up until around 10th grade at Richfield High School, but it got too expensive to continue.
Zuhlsdorf was two grades below Tyler Nanne growing up, chasing him up through the youth levels, just one year out of playing with him. He remembers always hearing about Tyler Nanne being a good bantam player when he was a peewee, and a good high school player when Zuhlsdorf was a bantam. That is, until he reached sophomore year of high school.
"I was always waiting, you know, 'What's going on with those other guys? They're so cool,'" Zuhlsdorf said. "Sophomore year, finally got to meet him, and finally found out he's just kind of a squirrely guy."
In the 2013-2014 season, Tyler Nanne was a senior and Zuhlsdorf was a sophomore at Edina, and Zuhlsdorf made the team. Zuhlsdorf said the two didn't really play as a defensive pairing together until they got to playoffs.
With Nanne and Zuhlsdorf holding down the blue line, the Hornets ended up winning the 2014 state tournament, culminating in a blowout 8-2 victory over Lakeville North. It was both of their final seasons playing high school hockey.
"They used to just dominate, because those are two talented players," said Tyler's grandfather, Lou Nanne. "They fit each other really well. Zuhlsdorf's a very sound defensive defenseman. He's strong in front of the net, he's strong on the boards. He can back you up, and it allowed Tyler the freedom to go with the puck."
They've been paired together in their two seasons with Minnesota, but lately Zuhlsdorf has mostly been with top-point-scoring defenseman Jack Sadek on the first line. Tyler Nanne most often plays on the second pairing with the Gophers' youngest player, freshman Ben Brinkman — a fellow Edina Hornet.
Nanne has tallied 10 total points this season (four goals, six assists), while Zuhlsdorf has six (one goal, five assists).
"They eat important minutes, and sometimes that's as valuable for a defenseman, besides the fancy numbers or putting things up," Minnesota head coach Bob Motzko said. "If we're going to have success, those guys are a big part of that."
Tyler Nanne graduated from high school two grades ahead of Zuhlsdorf, but now they are the only two junior defenseman on the roster. Tyler Nanne had a heart condition called myocarditis that kept him from playing at Ohio State three seasons ago. He transferred two seasons ago and sat out for one year due to NCAA transfer rules before making a healthy debut with the Gophers last season. He said the condition doesn't affect him anymore, though he makes sure to stay healthy, working out and getting enough sleep.
The Gophers will play their last regular season series against Arizona State in a two-game series Friday and Saturday at 3M Arena at Mariucci. After that, it is on to the Big Ten Tournament, which is most likely Minnesota's only chance to make the NCAA Tournament.
"It's the end of the year, and if you're not playing your best hockey now, then you might as well just not even show up to playoffs," Zuhlsdorf said. "We're making sure all gears are moving and cylinders are firing."