Like the Canadiens’ young gun, John played hockey as a youngster in Michigan and inspired Michael to do the same. The second-eldest of the McCarron clan continues to ply his trade professionally following a standout four-year collegiate career at Cornell University that wrapped up in 2014-15. John, 24, has spent the bulk of his time this season with the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers, while also enjoying time in the AHL as a member of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins after signing a one-year contract last September.
|The McCarron brothers celebrated Michael's 2015 Memorial Cup triumph with the Oshawa Generals last summer. |
Michael always paid close attention to the way John – an imposing forward, in his own right – went about his business to try to make his hockey dreams a reality. He looked up to him and admired his willingness to push himself to succeed with drive and dedication.
“John was always one of the hardest workers on any of his teams back home. We grew up best friends, always doing stuff together. He was just a good person. He was good at school. He was a good human. I saw the way he worked, the way he got things done. I always wanted to be just like him. That’s what I've tried to do,” said McCarron, 21, who registered 17 goals and 38 points in 58 games in St. John’s in 2015-16, while also suiting up for 20 games with the Canadiens during his first year in the pros.
Knowing full-well that Michael was keeping a close eye on him both on and off the ice, John did his best to set a good example for a young man blessed with all of the physical attributes necessary to be an impact player wherever he went.
“I was never a superstar. I always had to work harder to try to make my way onto different teams. I think Mike kind of grasped that mentality. I was a third or fourth-line guy, so if I wanted to be on the first or second line, it was going to take a bunch of extra effort. I think that really trickled down on him and helped him develop at a younger age,” said McCarron, a two-time Big Red captain in his time with Cornell before making the jump to the pro game.
“The knock on Mike as a kid was his skating. People were always telling him that his skating needed work. That was my downfall, too. I remember him watching all of the drills I was working on to try to improve that aspect of my game. He would always follow me to the gym and do the extra work that the coaches would give me. He just ran with it. It’s great to see it paying off with Montreal,” added McCarron, a sixth-round draft pick of the Edmonton Oilers back in 2012.
Being nearly three years apart, the pair never did have a chance to play together on any competitive squad before leaving home and pursuing their respective career paths. They did, however, square off once in a game neither will soon forget. In October 2012, John and the Big Red played host to Michael and the United States National Development Under-18 Team (USNTDP) in an exhibition game at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, NY that Cornell went on to win by a score of 6-2.
Experiences like that really took the McCarron brothers back to their time playing shinny together as kids in their hometown of Grosse Pointe, located about 15 miles east of Detroit.
“My mom’s best friend as a kid had a big backyard and three boys of her own. Every winter, she always made a huge outdoor hockey rink and John and I would go over there every Friday night and spend hours and hours playing. They had these big lights up. We did that for quite a while, probably until I was 10 and John was 13. We’d play until something like 10 o’clock,” recalled McCarron, who went on to play for the OHL’s London Knights and Oshawa Generals after a two-year run with the USNTDP. “Right there, you could just tell how much we both loved the game and loved to play. You could see it from the start.”
|The entire McCarron family was on site when Michael and John squared off in an exhibition game on the campus of Cornell University in October 2012. |
That distinctive passion for the game – along with natural talent – translated into Michael eventually being selected 25th overall by the Canadiens at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft in New Jersey, an event John wouldn’t have missed for the world.
“That was a surreal moment for our entire family. Mike and I had grown up watching the NHL Draft on TV. I wasn’t there the year I got selected because I was a later-round pick. Mike, though, was always in the mix to go in the first round or early in the second,” said McCarron, who, along with the rest of his family members, gave Michael a giant hug seconds after Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens’ vice president of player personnel and director of amateur scouting, called his name. “Being there on that opening day [at the Prudential Center] was special, watching Mike go up on stage and get that jersey was an exciting moment for the big brother.”
Seeing Michael sport the CH on NHL ice two-and-a-half years later, though, was even better. After flying to Nashville to take in Michael’s second career NHL game in December, it just so happened that John and the Nailers had the day off in Kalamazoo, MI the same night that Michel Therrien’s troops were in Detroit to battle the Red Wings on March 24. That came just four days after the Canadiens’ No. 34 lit the lamp in the NHL ranks for the very first time in a tilt against the Calgary Flames at the Bell Centre.
“When I saw Mike play in Nashville, it was just surreal to see him out there on the ice. This one, though, I was actually watching his game and kind of comparing him to some of the players we grew up watching like [Pavel] Dastyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg. We were huge Red Wings fans as kids, so seeing him take faceoffs against some of these guys was pretty incredible. I could tell he was a little nervous, just based on his mannerisms. I know he thought he didn’t play very well, but I thought he played a pretty good game,” shared McCarron, who estimates that about 50 family members and friends were in the Joe Louis Arena stands on that Thursday night offering up their support to Michael and the Canadiens.
“I felt my Red Wings loyalty go right out the window that night. It was kind of weird. Detroit kept scoring and they were up 4-0, but I wasn’t cheering for them because I wanted Mike to win. Then, the Canadiens started scoring and fighting back. I was the only one cheering in my section and people were wondering why. I actually told them that my brother played for Montreal, so they understood,” added McCarron, regarding the 4-3 loss the Canadiens went on to suffer in their final visit of the year to the Motor City.
While the pair doesn’t get a chance to spend much time together during the season, they try to make up for it like most people do these days – with the help of technology. Fortunately, they’ve got a lot in common to keep the conversations flowing when they do sit down to chat. They also plan on training and living together in London, ON once again this summer, which will definitely give them an opportunity to catch up during workouts and downtime as they both prepare for the 2016-17 season.
“We FaceTime every chance we get after games and check in on how each other is doing. If we’re struggling a bit, John and I will talk about it and even whine and moan a little, too. It’s definitely nice to have someone who knows exactly what you’re going through right there for support. There’s no better person to talk to than your brother in situations like these,” explained McCarron, who will surely be battling for a full-time spot with the Canadiens when training camp opens in five months’ time in Montreal.
Those FaceTime sessions mean just as much to John, who, like Michael, is steadily growing accustomed to life as a pro, and the steep learning curve that inevitably comes with it.
|John couldn't have been prouder of Michael for making his dream of reaching the NHL ranks a reality. |
“I was getting my feet wet in the AHL at the same time Mike was going up to the NHL, so we were kind of in the same boat at the time. We were both the "new" guys, so we talked about that dynamic - and we were both staying in hotels, so talking really helped pass the time," cracked McCarron, who also had plenty of questions for Michael once the Canadiens brought him up to the bigs. "I wanted to pick his brain a little more because I've always wondered how NHL guys prepare and what they do on off-days. He's been sharing that with me. You kind of get the best of both worlds, so to speak."
Given the incredible bond the McCarron brothers share, saying they're one another's biggest fans wouldn't be an understatement.
“We grew up always dreaming of playing in the NHL. Mike was always a little more on the fast-track. I don’t think it’s out of the question yet for me, though. We’re proud of each other for accomplishing what we have and we’re both going forward with what we want to do,” concluded McCarron. “You’ve got to have the utmost respect for each other’s game, and we do. We’ll see what happens down the road.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
Learning to lead