When Alex and Isaac MacLeod suit up for tomorrow night’s Great Lakes Invitational semi-finals at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, there will be more at stake than a shot at a tournament title. On the line is the highly coveted brotherly bragging rights.
Alex will take to the ice first as his Michigan Tech Huskies attempt to knock off cross-state rival Michigan State in the annual tournament that’s hosted by all three of the state’s big hockey schools. The older MacLeod brother will then settle into the stands of the hallowed arena and watch Isaac’s Boston College. Eagles match up against the University of Michigan. If both teams win (or lose), the brothers will get their first ever opportunity to play a competitive game against each other.
“It would be pretty special,” 19-year-old Isaac told the Nelson Star last week at his Rosemont home while on break in Nelson for the holidays. “Our parents are coming down, so that would be pretty cool.”
“It would be interesting,” chimed in 24-year-old Alex. “We never had the opportunity to play together growing up and all of a sudden we will be playing against each other.”
Alex is in his final season of NCAA hockey and Isaac is currently midway through his second. Unless Michigan Tech and Boston College both make it to the NCAA’s season ending national championship tournament, this might be the last chance for the MacLeod brothers to claim college bragging rights.
“I told him he will have to keep his head up, he might not want to go back into the corner to get that puck,” said Alex, who is a physical power forward on the Huskies.
And what if big brother is cutting through the middle?
“I’m coming elbow’s high,” chuckled Isaac, who is a stay-at-home defenceman for the Eagles.
GOING OUT ON A HIGH NOTE
Last year’s season was a disaster for Michigan Tech. The Huskies finished with a dismal 4-30-4 record that resulted in coach Jamie Russell’s resignation in the spring.
Entering his final season of eligibility, Alex returned to Houghton, Michigan — located in the northern part of the state — with new hope. With coach Mel Pearson now behind the bench and a crop of strong recruits, there was a feeling within the program that hadn’t existed since Alex signed on with the school out of the BCHL.
“We have a good team this year, a lot stronger than last season,” said Alex, who will graduate with a mechanical engineering degree in the spring.
That’s an understatement.
The Huskies currently sit in seventh spot in the powerhouse 12-team Western Collegiate Hockey League, but the team’s 9-9-1 overall record this season is much more respectable compared to last year. Included in the wins were two big victories over Denver and Minnesota, both ranked number two in the nation at the time.
“Those kinds of wins are huge for our confidence and our program,” Alex said. “We have those good wins on our record, but we have lost to some weaker teams in the conference, which means we have some work to do.”
As for his own play, Alex has become one of the Huskies important leaders in his final season.
“The role I have fallen into this year is an energy guy, I contribute when I can offensively,” he said. “I have a few points, but what is most important is that I’m leading by example out there.”
Though time on his college hockey career is running out, Alex hopes to find some minor pro opportunities next season.
“I’m not ready to pack it in yet,” he said.
As for his time spent in Houghton, Alex said he made the right choice four years ago while playing with the Penticton Vees of the BCHL.
“I could have gone a couple different ways, but I am going to walk out of there with a great degree in engineering,” he said. “I have some unreal experiences, so overall I’m pretty pleased with my decision.”
MIXING WITH THE ELITE
While brother Alex enjoys college life in a small community of just over 7,000, Isaac is one of the United State’s most bustling centres. With a metro area of more than 4.5 million, Boston has pulled Isaac into a whole new world.
“It’s a long way from Nelson,” he laughed, “but it’s a lot of fun.”
Boston College is currently ranked third in the nation and despite a recent skid, the Eagles are expected to challenge for NCAA supremacy in a couple months.
“In the last 10 years it’s been a very successful program and in the last couple years the other sports programs at Boston College have faltered a little which has put more of a spotlight on the hockey program,” said Isaac.
With a highly touted squad last season, the Eagles were on a road to a national title until they were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament by Colorado College who were led by Jaden Schwartz — the captain of Canada’s World Junior squad currently battling it out for supremacy in Alberta.
Though he was used sparingly in his freshman season, this year Isaac has stepped into the top-six and is starting to play a lot of minutes.
“I have definitely stepped into a bigger role this year than last, I am playing penalty kill now which means I get on the ice a lot more,” said Isaac, who is enrolled in the school of business.
“I just try to go out there and be reliable so they can count on me that I won’t make mistakes back there.”
Drafted by the San Jose Sharks in 2010, Isaac’s future in the game seems destined to extend beyond college. At this point, however, NHL dreams are on hold as he is only looking at what lies ahead at Boston College.
“There would have to be something pretty substantial for me to leave,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m there for four years. I will get my education and see what the options are after that.”
The MacLeod brothers are more than four years apart so when they were growing up in Nelson, they were not really buddies.
“I always looked up to him as a big brother, but as you expect he never really had enough time for me,” said Isaac. “We were not really close because we were not in the same schools. But I looked up to him as a hockey player and a person, I started wearing number 18 because he was 18. But because of the age difference we didn’t really hang out.”
Though the age difference hampered social opportunities as kids, Alex remembers plenty of time spent together on the family’s driveway.
“He always wanted to play hockey outside,” Alex said. “I’d throw him in goal and I would rip balls at him. It seemed like that is all he ever wanted to do.”
Though they play different positions, the pair took similar paths to NCAA hockey. Both played a season in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League before heading to the BCHL (Isaac also played for Penticton). And when little brother made the jump to college hockey, big brother offered a little wisdom.
“There are a lot of things that are not in your control in college hockey, so I just told him when you get your chance you have to make sure you capitalize,” said Alex. “The only thing you can really control in college is your attitude and work ethic.”
The two swap text messages and emails from time to time during the season, but the rigours of college hockey eat up so much time that even that becomes difficult.
And though they still squabble like all brothers do, there is respect on both sides of the relationship.
“I’m pretty proud of him, he got drafted by San Jose last year and that was pretty big,” said Alex. “I hope he keeps working hard and keeps his head straight… hopefully he makes the big club one day.”
If Michigan Tech and Boston College win their first games they will compete for the Great Lakes Invitational title on Friday night. Bragging rights will be on the line.