When Richard McLeod bought a new house in Mississauga, Ont., in the early 2000s, he and his wife Judi were no different than any other Canadian family;
they put a rink in the backyard for their three boys, Matthew, Michael and Ryan, to play hockey on.
“Things changed in our life as a family when we bought this house that had a big property; we had a vision of our boys playing hockey in the backyard, and
eventually all the neighborhood kids were playing and it became our centre of excellence.”
Only two years and 11 months separate the three boys, and their father believes that was instrumental in their development of hockey players. “They are
extremely close and fierce competitors and it helped their games.”
It’s obvious the backyard competition has paid off.
Both Michael and Ryan are on the ice in Calgary at the Hockey Canada National Teams’ Summer Showcase; Michael is competing for a roster spot at Canada’s
National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team selection camp, while Ryan is getting his first taste of the Program of Excellence at Canada’s national under-17
Oldest brother Matthew is no slouch on the ice either; two seasons in the Ontario Junior Hockey League earned him an NCAA scholarship to Canisius College,
where he’ll begin his freshman year this fall.
Michael and Ryan played sports together growing up, have many of the same friends, hang out together and they watch each other’s games, so they're as close
as two young aspiring hockey players can be.
And while most players go into the under-17 development camp with a sense of the unknown, Ryan has been well prepared by Michael, who attended U17 camp
last summer and played at the 2014 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge.
“It’s really special [to be at camp together] and I gave him a high five and wished him luck when I saw him,” Michael says. “I will give him a text when we
get our phones for one hour each night; this can be stressful on him being the first time at a 10-day national camp and I will be checking up on him.”
Michael’s biggest piece of advice? It’s all about The Canadian Way. “He told me to have good character and play your hardest,” Ryan said. “They are looking
for a hard working player.”
The last few years have seemed to be a game of ‘anything you can do, I can do better (or just as well)’ for the McLeods; Michael won the OHL Cup with the
Toronto Marlboros in 2014 and was MVP, so Ryan turned the same trick one year later, helping the Marlies to a second consecutive title and earning MVP
Ryan did one-up Michael at the OHL Priority Selection; one year after Michael was taken fifth overall by the Mississauga Steelheads, Ryan went to the Flint
Firebirds with the No. 3 pick.
Whether it was backyard hockey, mini-sticks or road hockey, the brothers always pushed each other to be better, and Ryan feels that their childhood
experiences have had a positive impact on his development as a player and a person.
“[Michael] is a big help, telling me what to expect at the next level and what areas I need to work on.”
On the ice, the brothers both play centre, and come in at a similar size (Michael is 6-foot-2 and 188 pounds, while Ryan is 6-foot-1 and 181 pounds). They
both play with speed and skill, but that’s where the similarities end. “He is a lefty and I am a righty,” Michael says. “He is more of a shooter and I am
more of a drive-wide kind of player, pass first.”
The experience is Calgary isn’t just exciting for the brothers, it’s exciting for the parents as well. Richard never dreamed two of his sons would be at a
Hockey Canada camp together.
“It wasn’t until my oldest son Matthew got to Minor Midget did we realize the opportunities for our kids in hockey,” he says. “They [Michael and Ryan] are
very motivated and have progressed over the years, but this kind of snuck up on us.”
With their place in the national spotlight firmly entrenched, there’s a good chance Michael and Ryan won’t be sneaking up on anyone in the hockey world