Twin zebras
by Andrew Podnieks|02 MAY 2021
Linesman Kevin Briganti works the Switzerland vs Canada game.
photo: Ryan McCullough / HHOF-IIHF Images
Everyone who is involved in an IIHF tournament is automatically a part of international hockey history, but in the case of twins Nick and Kevin Briganti, their place is just a little more noteworthy. You see, they are the first twins to officiate a men’s U18 event together, something they could not have even imagined as a goal when they first dropped their sticks and picked up a whistle at the start of their college days.

“Our dad was an official, and that’s how we became interested,” said Nick, five minutes the elder. “When the two of us started to take officiating seriously, we were both playing junior hockey in Hartford, where we’re from, and we had to make a decision to try to play Division III college hockey somewhere or go to college right away and pursuing officiating seriously. Once we started that, the NHL was the ultimate goal because we didn’t know too much about the IIHF at that point. But we were fortunate because we both have been working in the AHL and Hockey East in NCAA, so we were able to pursue the NHL dream but also to do this IIHF event. The AHL gave us the time off to come here; they also understand this is a great opportunity to get the experience to work a high-level of hockey.”

It sounds simple and doesn’t take long to say they are the first twins or they are here at their first IIHF event, but the reality is that the process to be selected to work an IIHF event is anything but easy.

“What USA Hockey does is have progressive camps for the officials, like the players,” Nick explained. “There are regional camps and national camps and from there you get selected to a summer camp called the Program of Merit, which is made up of the best people from the other camps. Ultimately, you get selected for an elite camp, which is run every other summer at the USNTDP in Plymouth, in conjunction with the World Junior Summer Showcase. From there, there’s an evaluation to select tournament officials for the IIHF, which is the ultimate goal. If you get a license, you can be selected to work tournaments. That’s how you work your way up to a tournament like this.”

“That’s everyone’s goal,” Kevin continued, “to get to the international level, because the World Championships and Olympics is something that we’re all hoping to work some day. So, this tournament is a good place to start proving yourself to be able to take on that challenge.”

That challenge has been complicated by the pandemic, of course. The officials had to quarantine when they arrived in Texas, and they were divided into pods for their own safety.

“They have us in four pods during the tournament, so we work together, eat and travel together, and get to know each other, build a rapport together,” Kevin explained. “And if there is a problem with one pod [i.e., a positive test], that group can be isolated and everyone else isn’t affected.”

The Brigantis are pros at the NCAA and AHL levels, so they know some of the American officials here, but not the Europeans. That’s where the safety becomes a bit of a drag.

“We’re meeting most of the other officials for the first time, so it would have been nice to be able to go out to dinner and get to know each other face to face,” Nick said. “But this year it’s mostly zoom calls. We’ve had team meetings on zoom. We even had a team workout on zoom. It’s been working well, but it’s not the same.”

Indeed, that’s been a theme for the officials. Great to be here, but too bad the situation isn’t more conducive to the social aspects of the work. 

“A lot of the differences have been away from the ice,” Nick continued, “but once we get on the ice it’s just hockey and we do things the same way at any other tournament or league. Everything has been running smoothly.”

This IIHF event is their third rule book of the season, but attention to detail, and conscientious preparation has made the transition smooth for them. 

“Between college hockey and the AHL, there are rules differences, especially this year, for instance, with the new offside rule in pro hockey, so I think adjusting comes with mental preparation,” Kevin said. “You walk into the building and you know what teams are playing, and you get into that mindset of this game and this league and rules. Like in business, we wear many hats, and we just make sure we’re wearing the right hat for each game.”

Nick agreed. “It’s all part of the mental preparation for the tournament. We’re like the players—we’re working toward the gold-medal game at the end. We have to control the things we can control—rule-book knowledge, procedures, positioning. We can prepare for those things, and that’s our main focus coming in.”

Kevin has always been on the lines but Nick was a referee at first before making the switch. “I was always a linesman from the beginning. It came to me more naturally. I just felt more comfortable,” Kevin said.

Nick explored his options before deciding. “I did a little bit of refereeing, but lining came more natural to me,” he explained. “It’s almost like when you start out playing hockey and you’re trying to decide if you want to be a forward or defenceman. You try both and see what your comfort zone is. I think it also helped us that we did it together.”

Funnily enough, they have worked way more games together than they have apart, yet here in Texas they have yet to be on the same sheet of ice.

“If I had a dime for every time we worked together!,” Kevin chuckled. “We worked together a lot in college hockey coming up. I think that’s helped with our development. Being twins we shared a room for many years growing up. It’s at the point we don’t even have to look at each other. We know each other’s voices, and our communication is great to have. There were a couple of seasons we worked almost exclusively together. This year, with the pandemic, they wanted to keep officials together, so it made sense to keep us together. We probably worked 90 per cent of college hockey games together, which was nice, but just to be at a prestigious tournament like this is something special on its own.”

“It’s been special to work together,” Nick said of their careers to date. “We’re 26, so to be able to come up together and experience all of this together on the ice has been great. A common saying supervisors have is that they want officials to share a brain together on ice, so for the two of us that comes naturally. We have a lot of non-verbal communication and just know each other so well.”