UGA Hockey vs. Life University 1/12/16

Georgia's forward Christopher Santa Maria (76) faces off against a Life University player during a club hockey match at the Classic Center in Athens, GA, on Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2016. (Photo/Jacob Egan)

Chris and Caleb Santa Maria had to share a bedroom as kids growing up in Decatur, GA.

They did not particularly enjoy it. Chris hated the mess Caleb always made. Caleb did not see the problem with it. They could always agree, however, on one thing: their love for hockey.

Chris, a 23-year-old junior forward, and Caleb, a 21-year-old sophomore forward, tried playing the mainstream sports. They just could not get into baseball and soccer. Too slow. Too boring. Not enough excitement.

Hockey, though, was different. Their parents brought them to a Nashville Predators game when they were young, and they were immediately hooked.

The players could move around on ice using nothing but a blade only a few millimeters in diameter. All while playing a game at an extremely fast pace.

Now that looked fun, they said.

“Our parents took us to football games and baseball games as we were young, but we wouldn’t stay the whole time to watch,” Caleb said. “Same with soccer and all that. But hockey was the only sport that we ever stayed the whole game and wanted to watch another one.”

The Georgia club hockey team is going to the national tournament for the second consecutive year. The round robin pool play starts on March 13 in Columbus, Ohio. Georgia’s chances of winning its pool and advancing to the semifinals depend a lot on Chris and Caleb, two of the team’s best offensive talents.

Chris scored 31 goals in 2017-18, the second most on the team. Caleb, meanwhile, managed to score 15 to tie for fifth on the team, despite missing more than half the season after tearing his MCL and partially tearing his meniscus.

He returned to the ice during the Southeastern Collegiate Hockey Conference playoffs on Feb. 9, despite head coach Rick Emmett saying that he was not 100 percent.

“It felt good [to come back],” Caleb said. “I got three goals more than him.”

Chris was quick to correct his younger brother.

“I definitely scored that game too,” Chris said. “But you got a hat trick.”

The Santa Maria brothers have been bickering like this for as long as they can remember. Hockey may cause some of the back-and-forth, but it has strengthened their friendship overall.

It all started with the Nashville Predators. Inspired by the game they saw, Chris and Caleb convinced their cousins to play with them in an organized roller hockey league.

Their cousins quit after about a year, but Chris and Caleb kept with it. They eventually turned their roller skates in for ice skates and never looked back.

Chris and Caleb have dedicated a lot of time over the years to the sport they love. After graduating from Druid Hills high school in 2013, Chris took two gap years just to focus on hockey. Caleb took one year off after graduating from Druid Hills in 2015.

“Hockey is a lot different than other sports,” Chris said. “A lot of the kids going into their first year playing DI hockey at those top schools, they’re like 21. So they’ve all taken a couple years off to play hockey.”

While Chris played for the Atlanta Junior Knights during his gap years, Caleb ventured all the way to Minnesota to play for the Forest Lake Lakers. He described the year he spent in the heart of hockey country as an important learning experience.

“It helps you become more independent, getting a job, mature more, and doing all this by yourself pretty much,” Caleb said. “Because you’re not living with your family.”

By the time the year was over, however, he was ready to move back.

“After Minnesota, I wanted to come back because UGA was a great school and I didn’t want to play NCAA D3,” Caleb said. “And playing with my brother was a plus to that.”

Since reuniting in 2016, they have flourished on the ice.

“I like [playing with Chris] a lot more than I used to,” Caleb said. “But I know how he plays so I just counter whatever he does...I know exactly where he is going to be at all times, pretty much.”

Chris agreed, but he did not miss an opportunity to put his brother in his place.

“We work really well together, actually.” Chris said. “Off the ice, he kinda annoys the shit out of me. I hate him a lot. But on the ice, I will pick him to play with out of anyone on this team.”

Their teammates know that the Santa Maria brothers play favorites.

“They pass to each other, and they pass to me,” senior forward Zach Flasch said. “So I like it. But they don’t pass to everybody else.”

According to Emmett, Chris is a great big brother.

“When Chris needs to take charge with him, he will and Caleb will listen,” Emmett said. “But at the same time, he is not there to boss him around. They understand and respect their games as athletes.”

Despite the respect they have for one another, Chris and Caleb still cannot help fighting.

“They do mesh really well on the ice, even though they fight about it,” Flasch said. “They fight, but they’re good on the ice. And then on the bench they fight. And then they get on the ice. It’s a brother thing.”

Maybe not much has changed since Chris and Caleb shared a room as kids. However, they now understand that their fights are good-natured.

“It’s good,” Caleb said. “We like it.”

“No hard feelings,” Chris said.

The Santa Maria brothers do not live with each other anymore, but they have plans to do so next school year.

But not in the same room or on the same floor.

They made sure of that.

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