The usual historic sites — the Paul Revere House, Old North Church, Faneuil Hall — are noteworthy but they don’t compare with TD Garden.
“I get to walk down the same rubber mat that the Bruins walk on,” marvels Alex Shibutani, who can point to the spot where Soupy Campbell broke his leg in last year’s playoff game with the Penguins and still stayed on the ice.
The next day, when sister Maia accidentally kicked his shin with her toe pick during practice, Shibutani remembered Campbell and shook off the pain.
“He stayed out there, he didn’t complain,” Alex reminded himself. “He broke his leg. This is a cut.”
Shibutani takes his inspiration from wherever he can and if much of it has been supplied by the Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics, and Patriots, that’s understandable from a man who was born at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and probably could find his way to Yawkey Way blindfolded.
“I’m kind of a Masshole of sorts when it comes to sports teams,” confesses Alex, whose parents met when they were Harvard classmates and fellow musicians.
If the Sox hadn’t won the Series in 2004, who knows where the Shibutanis would be now? They were preparing for their first regional dance competition while the Sox were being crushed by the Yankees in the ALCS.
“Embarrassing,” recalls Alex, who still was mourning Aaron Boone’s homer from a year earlier.
“He got more and more depressed,” Maia says.
“I forgot part of my program,” Alex says. “My mom pulled me aside and said, ‘Alex, you can’t control what happened.’ Then they started winning.”
Boston ran the table and the Shibutanis made it to nationals, won a medal, and have made the podium every year since.
“It became a running joke — we would not be here today if the Red Sox had not beaten the Yankees because I would have done a complete meltdown,” Alex says. “That ESPN documentary ‘Four Days in October’? They need to remake it and I need to be in that.”
So is it a coincidence that the Sox won the Series again last autumn and that the Shib Sibs are in the Garden this week for the US Figure Skating Championships with a ticket to next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi on the line?
“It feels like the perfect setup,” muses Maia, who was born in New York but won’t begrudge her brother his Hub karma.
There are three places on the US dance team and the Shibutanis, who’ve made the podium at the last three nationals, figure to grab one of them.
“We know we have the goods,” says Alex. “We’ve done it time and time again. We’re strong performers. We rise to the occasion even when the odds are stacked against our favor. We’re gamers.”
The Shib Sibs never have left nationals without a medal, jitterbugging their way up from juvenile to intermediate to novice to junior to senior. In one year they went from first in domestic juniors to third in world seniors. So when they slipped to eighth at the global competition two years ago, they didn’t panic and part company. The Shibutanis, who both are Michigan undergraduates, were siblings long before they were partners.
“We are each other’s first and only partners,” says Alex. “I don’t think I can find a better partner than Maia, especially at this point. It’s the personal connection.”
Maia, who’s three years younger, is the older sibling. “She’s always been mature,” says Alex. “Middle school was just annoying for her. She was, ‘Uhh, these boys, what’s wrong with them? They’re just so immature. They just don’t get it.’ ”
Maia considers Alex reasonably together as big brothers/dance partners go.
“Probably the only thing that I could ever complain about this one is that sometimes he’s a little bit tardy,” she offers.
“There are probably more things,” Alex reckons, “but she’s just being nice.”
“Like at a competition,” Maia says. “The bus is going to leave in two minutes. Where are you?”
“I have a lack of time sense,” Alex concedes, “so recently I got this ginormous clock. It’s comically big. I can’t miss it. Every time I turn my head it’s like a giant flashing: 12:30. I’m a snooze addict. It’s an issue I’m working on, but I’ve got the right people around me and I’m sure that I’ll persevere through this difficult time in my life.”
Tardiness wasn’t an issue when they were solo skaters. Their partnership began after they went to the 2003 world championships in Washington and watched the dancers from up close.
“We got this feeling that they all were skating around in a circle and creating a vortex of wind,” Alex remembers.
When Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, the future US champions and Olympic medalists, scribbled their signatures for them, the Shibs were enthralled.
“If we had gone up to Tanith and Ben and said, could we get your autographs and they were, like, get out of our faces, kids, we’d probably be doing something else now,” Alex says.
The sibs immediately clicked as a dance couple. “Before we even started skating, we’d hold each other’s hands, having fun, dancing around the living room,” Alex says.
In just four years the Shibutanis found themselves in the fast lane, training alongside Meryl Davis and Charlie White and their Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in Canton, Mich.
“We were the babies,” Alex recalls. “They were all preparing to go to Worlds. We were so afraid of getting in their way.”
The Shibs were too young for the 2010 Olympics, where Virtue and Moir won on their home ice in Vancouver with Davis and White second. But the following year in Moscow they were with them on the world podium with the bronze medal.
“Who are we?” Maia had wondered when she saw TV crews filming their warm-up. “And what is this?”
The Shibutanis since have become comfortable with the cameras rolling. In fact, they have their own YouTube channel. ShibSibs Productions, which uses their off-duty colleagues as talent, creates everything from vlogs to Tokyo travelogues to “Call Me Maybe” on ice to skits like “One More Sandwich,” a buffet death match, and “Skates to Plates,” with Boston buddy Ross Miner as part of a culinary challenge (“What Would Brian Boitano Make?”).
This week the reality show comes to Causeway Street, where the Shibutanis are hoping to earn the chance to do some recreational filming by the Black Sea next month.
“It’s a sport,” Maia says, “so there are no guarantees.”
The sibs could have skated for Japan, where their mother, Naomi, was born and where they could have waltzed onto the Olympic team.
“It really wasn’t a question for us,” Alex says. “There was no doubt. We’re Americans. We’re going to compete here and we feel like we’re good enough to compete with the best in the world regardless of who we skate for.”
If the Shibs didn’t skate for the United States, their road to Olympus wouldn’t have gone through the Garden and Alex wouldn’t be able to come back to his favorite historical site.
“If you see him get emotional when he’s looking up at the rafters,” says Maia, “I guess you’ll know why.”John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.