Paving the Way: Big brothers set the pace

Sometimes the best incentive is to try and be as good, if not better than your big brother.

A number of young players tabbed as being among the CHL’s top eligible prospects for the 2017 NHL Draft have lived out that mission – and it’s paying big dividends for them today.

Take Matthew Strome for example.

The 17-year-old Hamilton Bulldogs winger has grown up in the shadow of older brothers Ryan and Dylan, but now it’s his time to shine, and he can’t thank his big brothers enough.

“It toughened me up,” Strome chuckled. “When we were younger I was always the one put in net and having balls shot at me. They’re always there for me though, giving me good advice and helping me get to where I need to be with my game.”

The first ever draft pick of the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs, Matthew Strome has built off a solid rookie campaign last season, collecting 26 goals, 16 assists and 42 points over 45 games in 2016-17 to lead the team in scoring.

Both older Stromes have gone on to big things, with Ryan currently in his fourth pro season with the New York Islanders and Dylan on his way to breaking in with the Arizona Coyotes.

The role of youngest child, it turns out, develops a certain resiliency, the kind that Matthew Strome and others like him have displayed thus far in their young careers.

While he suits up for Team Orr after brothers Ryan and Dylan suffered lopsided defeats as members of Team Cherry in 2011 and 2015, another pair of ‘little brothers’ lines up across the ice.

Team Cherry rearguards Pierre-Olivier Joseph (Charlottetown Islanders) and Cale Fleury (Kootenay ICE) have both attended the school of hard knocks, growing up under competitive older brothers who have gone on to big things on the ice.

Joseph, whose older brother Mathieu represented Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship this past holiday season, is the 42nd ranked skater in North America on NHL Central Scouting’s Midterm Rankings. The 17-year-old has 34 points (6-28–34) in 44 games with Charlottetown this season.

“He’s always been there to push me, to remind me not to settle for second best,” said Joseph of his older brother who plays for a divisional opponent in the Saint John Sea Dogs. “I really admire his character and how hard he plays the game. He is a big reason why I love the game as much as I do today.”

While Mathieu Joseph didn’t play in the Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in his draft year, Cale Fleury’s older brother Haydn did, dropping a 4-3 decision as a member of Team Cherry in 2014.

Haydn Fleury went on to be a first round (7th overall) pick of the Carolina Hurricanes and currently plays in the American Hockey League following last year’s Mastercard Memorial Cup hosting with the Red Deer Rebels.

The younger Fleury, an 18-year-old defenceman with the Kootenay ICE, was named to Team Cherry as an injury replacement on Saturday after Seattle Thunderbirds rearguard Jarret Tyszka was sidelined with an injury.

“He’s always been a little bit taller and heavier than me,” said Cale Fleury of his brother that is approximately two years his senior. “It made for some good scraps and made me work if I wanted to have success.”

Brotherly advice is always valued, and Fleury received a little bit of that.

“He just told me that it’s a great opportunity and there’s a lot of good players, but that it’s not an all-star game and you have to really bear down and compete.”

Rounding out the group of ‘little brothers’ in the 2017 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game, Team Cherry forward Gabriel Vilardi grew up under older brother Francesco who recently wrapped up a three year OHL career between the Plymouth Whalers and Flint Firebirds and now attends Queen’s University.

Matthew Strome, Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Cale Fleury and Gabriel Vilardi have all taken their lumps as the little guy growing up, but Monday presents an opportunity for them to seize the moment before hundreds of NHL scouts in attendance at Centre Vidéotron when the puck drops at 7:00pm ET for a national TV audience tuning in on Sportsnet and TVA Sports.

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