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Brotherly Bonding In the Bubble

by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter

Most NHL players and staff living inside of the hub city bubbles will be away from their families for the duration of their stays. But not Penguins defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who actually has a family member staying just a few floors away.

His older brother Mathieu is a second-year forward for the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the five teams - along with the Penguins, Flyers, Capitals and Bruins - who are staying at Hotel X in Toronto.

Though Pierre-Olivier, 21, and Mathieu, 23, did have to stay on their separate floors for a while after arriving on Sunday per the NHL's Phase 4 Protocol - which stated that people could only interact with the other individuals from their traveling party during the initial five days following arrival.

"We basically had to stay away from each other for a little bit," Pierre-Olivier said. "Knowing we were in the same hotel, it was kind of tough not to be able to see each other at first. But we understood."

Tweet from @penguins: Mathieu Joseph on his brother, Penguins defenseman Pierre-Olivier: "I���m pushing him, but I don���t really need to. The person he becomes every day is getting better and he is liked by everyone around."We like the sound of that. 👏

It was especially tough because the brothers had only seen each other twice in the past seven months. Once during the holidays, when Pierre-Olivier joined his family on a short trip to Tampa to watch Mathieu play in one game for the Lightning, and again when WBS played Syracuse at the end of February. They went for dinner and a game of bowling the night before the Crunch hosted the Penguins.

But although Pierre-Olivier and Mathieu had gotten an apartment together last summer in Montreal, where they lived and trained, the brothers didn't quarantine together during the pause. And while they stayed in contact nearly every day - whether that was through calling, FaceTiming, texting or video games - it just wasn't the same as seeing each other in person. 

So when Pierre-Olivier - who is in his first season of professional hockey - got the call that he was coming to Toronto as one of the Penguins' Aces, he was definitely excited at the prospect of seeing Mathieu, albeit in somewhat surreal circumstances. And once the requisite amount of time had passed and they were allowed to hang out, the brothers opted for a socially-distanced game of tennis.

"It's always fun to see each other," Pierre-Olivier said. "It's been a while. He's my best friend. It was great to see him and have a little time with him while staying safe, of course. It's hard seeing your brother and needing to stay a little bit further away, but it is what it is."

Instagram from @mathyjoz21: Happy 21st birthday to my lil bro 🎂 ! Can't tell you how proud I am of the person you are becoming. Keep being the leader, the postive and the generous person that you are. World wide legal heyoooo 🍻! Wish I was celebrating it with you, love you ❤️ #Bestfriend

Pierre-Olivier stopped at Mathieu's room on the way to the court, where he was able to give him some grief for the state of his room - "it was a mess" - and the size.

"Everything is the same for teams, but my room happens to be a little bigger than his," Pierre-Olivier said with a laugh. "The second I saw it, I was like, I have a bigger room than you. I got to pick on him a little bit with that." 

That's just par for the course with those two, who have been incredibly competitive with each other since they were kids. For example, before the first game they played against each other in the QMJHL, their mother France gave them one rule: no fighting. That quickly went out the window, as Pierre-Olivier and Mathieu were each given double minors at the end of the game after tussling with each other.

"He was on top of me and I grabbed his leg and he punched me in the face," Pierre-Olivier said in an episode of the WBS Penguins Podcast. "A bunch of stuff happened like that; it was funny."

So maybe having to stay a little bit further apart than normal was for the best, as nothing of that sort happened this time - though that didn't mean the game didn't get intense.

"Of course, stuff got a little bit heated up as the game went on, but that's just the rivalry between brothers," Pierre-Olivier said with a laugh.

And soon enough, the rivalry will grow once both of their teams' games are officially underway. The Penguins open their Qualifying Round against the Canadiens on Saturday, while the Lightning will face the Capitals in their round-robin game on Monday. 

But until then, the brothers will keep it friendly, and maybe even send a photo or two to France.

"My mom asked for a selfie, but we didn't do it yet," Pierre-Olivier said. "It's probably going to come later, but I know when things start it's going to be less brothers, more rivals. We're going to be more serious about keeping our distance as enemies, I guess. For now, we're good because we're not playing against each other."

Only in tennis.

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