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Brothers Rory, Hunter, Graham and Mike Garlasco of Mahwah, photographed at The Ice Vault in Wayne. (Photo by Greg Pallante)
Posted: Thursday August 22, 2013, 2:16 PM
By Brian A. Giuffra

There was little hesitation to answer the question and even less doubt in the tone of response. Then again, when you're one of four brothers who play hockey at a highly competitive level and someone asks who is the best, there rarely is.

"Me," says Rory Garlasco, 18, the second oldest brother.

"Me," says Hunter Garlasco, two years Rory's junior.

"Me," says Graham Garlasco, the youngest brother at age 13.

And when Mike Jr., the oldest brother at 23, is brought up a moment later, everyone in the family's Mahwah living room agrees he would say he is the best too (if he weren't in Canada doing an internship).

"Yea," Graham retorts. "But the difference is I don't think I'm the best. I am the best."

Only time will tell. But he has some stiff competition.

Quadruple Threat

Mike Garlasco Jr. is a rising senior forward on the Clarkson University hockey team and hopes to play professionally after college. He graduated from Don Bosco in 2007 and was a third-team All North Jersey selection as a senior forward that year.

Rory one-upped his big bro as a senior at Don Bosco this past season, making first-team All North Jersey and All Bergen County as a defenseman, while leading the Ironmen to the non-public final for the first time since 1994.

He hopes to earn a college scholarship after playing junior hockey for another year or two – he'll also take classes at a local college during that time, which is a typical move for hockey players looking for a scholarship – and hopes to play pro or semi-pro after graduating.

But even with all he's accomplished, Rory expects even more from Hunter, a rising junior at Don Bosco, who recorded more than 35 points as a sophomore forward.

"I hold him to a higher standard," Rory says of Hunter. "This year I was a captain [for Don Bosco] and I was tougher on him than I was on anyone else, just because he's my brother. I wanted him to thrive and do well and be better than anyone else on the team."

Rory included.

"Watching Mike and his success always pushed me to get better," Rory says. "So I tried to push Hunter and Graham even further than where I was at my whole life."

During the summer, that meant shooting pucks with his younger brothers on the tennis court in the family's back yard, just like Mike had done with him. During the winter, it meant covering the court with tarps, surrounding it with wooden beams, flooding it and waiting for the water to freeze over so they had their own rink to skate on.

Even when they had brotherly brawls on the trampoline out back, Rory was just toughening his brothers up for the road ahead.

"I still have a scar from that," Graham says, pointing to his shin. "I was the ref and I got cut with his [Hunter's] braces."

But no matter how many bumps and bruises they gave each other, the idea was always to make the younger brother better than the older one. So maybe Graham was right when he said he was the best.

"People always ask, 'Who's the best?' But it's tough to compare," says Mike Garlasco Sr., the patriarch of the family. "I don't know who's the best. Each one's style of hockey is totally, totally different. But they love the sport, they're good athletes and they're motivated.

"We weren't forced into the sport when I was a kid," he says, "and they weren't forced into it either."

Baby Skates

Still, it's not like the Garlasco boys had that much choice.

Their father played hockey growing up in Paramus. Their four uncles did too. Their four cousins played hockey at various schools in Bergen County. They live in a house once owned at different times by now-retired Devils stars Scott Niedermayer and Ken Daneyko and are family friends with Devils scout Jan Ludvig, who stays with them in the summer and has invited Devils forward Patrick Elias over a couple times.

"They got their first pair of skates the day they were born, all of them," says Lois Garlasco, the matriarch of the family. "They were nice ones, too: Bauer. They were the talk of the nursery."

Around the Garlasco house, mementos of those early days are everywhere.

Graham has his first stick, which is signed by a bunch of Devils players, sitting in the corner of his room. Hunter has an autographed picture of him selling French toast to Elias as a kid sitting on his desk. Rory displays a picture of himself skating when he was young, and Mike has a book shelf covered with photos and trophies.

The four of them have earned enough medals and trophies to fill a college trophy cabinet, and the amount of hockey equipment around the house could outfit an entire team.

"Hockey has always been a part of the family," Hunter says. "It was just what the family did. The family was based on hockey. We all love it. It was just part of the family dynamic."

That dynamic comes at a cost, though.

"I can't even tell you how much time we've spent on the road going to tournaments," Lois says. "It's non-stop. Most other people can't imagine a push like that."

For every hockey family intent on giving their kids the best chance to get better, get noticed and perhaps play professionally, there always is a sacrifice. For the Garlascos, that has meant missing Thanksgivings and Christmases together. It has meant choosing hockey tournaments in no-name towns over family vacations to well-known islands. It has meant driving one kid to practice, dropping him off, driving back home to take another kid to practice at another rink, then doing that two more times before making the rounds to pick them all up a few hours later.

"It's pretty nuts," Mike Jr. says. "There's a lot of travel and a lot of quick dinners. It's crazy practice times. It's crazy game times. It's a lot of sacrifice.

"Without [our parents]," he says, "none of this would be even close to being possible. The sacrifice that goes into it, it's incredible. But they have a passion for it and they love to see us out there playing and doing well."

Generational Game

Of course, hockey is a long-standing tradition in the family. Chris Garlasco, Mike Sr.'s oldest brother, started playing first. His four younger brothers soon followed, and by the late '70s, all five Garlasco brothers were playing hockey in and around Paramus. It started with pickup games on the local ponds and elevated to the point where all five were eventually playing semi-pro for the Bergen-Rockland Colonials in the Eastern Atlantic Hockey League.

"I don't know what it was about hockey [that made us want to play]," Mike Sr. says. "It's just a sport you can't compare anything to, and I guess my kids feel the same way."

There's little doubt the second generation of Garlasco hockey players feels the same way about the sport their father and uncles did when they first picked up a stick.

"When I was born, I was born into hockey," Mike Jr. explains. "We take hockey pretty seriously."

It's more than a game to the Garlascos. It's a way of life, and they love every minute of ice time they get.

Even when it's on their tennis court.

Family Facts

• Mike Sr. coached all his sons except Graham, because by the time Graham was old enough to play, Mike had to help with the family's rigorous travel schedule.

• During the summer, the Garlascos are host families for hockey players. They had 14 boys from the Czech Republic stay with them last summer.

• All four Garlasco brothers hope to play professionally but are more concerned with earning college scholarships and getting educations.

• The family members are big New Jersey Devils fans and have Devils gear throughout the house.

• Devils scout Jan Ludvig is the guy who discovered Patrick Elias. They remain friends, and Elias has played tennis twice at the Garlascos' house.

• Since 2003, Don Bosco has had a Garlasco boy playing for the school in all but two years. Mike Jr. played from 2003-2007, Rory played from 2009-2013 and Hunter is now a junior there. Graham will play there next year.

The Natural: Update

Englewood Cliffs baseball star Rob Kaminsky, a pitcher at St. Joe's who was featured in the April issue of (201) Family, is headed for the major leagues. He signed with the St. Louis Cardinals for $1.78 million after they made him the first Bergen County player taken directly out of high school in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft. Kaminsky was the 28th pick.

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