It wasn’t so much a team but a bunch of kids thrown together to play summer tournaments. But Michael McLeod and Dylan Strome found instant success – and friendship – back in 2003 on Team Mississauga.
Meanwhile, up in the stands, another McLeod and Strome made an immediate connection.
“When the kids were five and six we just found each other and we’ve been like best friends ever since,” says Judi McLeod about Trish Strome.
And so have their kids. There’s Ryan, Michael and Matthew McLeod; and Matthew, Dylan and Ryan Strome. Many have played on the same teams over the years, but all were just as likely to find their own game.
“We have a picture of Judi’s car at my house in the driveway with nets strapped to the top of it because we were going to the schoolyard to play hockey,” says Trish. “We would bring the kids over there and leave them there with the nets. One of them would run home and tell us when they were done.”
The families live around the corner from each other in Mississauga, Ont., so the chauffeuring of kids was always a part of the game plan.
“Oh, yeah, we had carpools,” says Judi. “One time Dylan and Mikey, and Matt and Ryan – our younger two – practiced at the same time so we had to shove them all in. One of us would take them and one of us would pick them up.”
“They would have the hockey bags on their legs in the backseat because there wasn’t enough room,” continues Trish. “We should’ve had a bus.”
“We should’ve,” says Judi. “It would’ve been easier.”
Michael and Dylan played only one other season together – with the Toronto Marlboros – after that first year. Each is now leader on his respective Ontario Hockey League team: Michael for the Mississauga Steelheads, and Dylan with the Erie Otters.
They’ve continued on with a summer road hockey series, each captaining a team. There’s plenty on the line. In their Grade 9 woodshop class, one of their neighbourhood friends made the Lord Comi Cup, which still goes home with the winning team. The Cup currently resides with the McLeods after a long stay at the Stromes’.
Now as teammates with Canada’s National Junior Team at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship they’ll chase a gold medal basically in their own backyard.
This is Trish Strome’s fourth time watching one of her sons play at the World Juniors. Ryan played in 2012 and 2013, and Dylan is competing for the second-straight year. The family still awaits that elusive gold medal.
“This has got to be it,” she says. “And [for Dylan] to play with Mikey is like a dream come true.”
“Dylan was texting me during the final selection camp saying, ‘Mikey’s playing great,’” says Judi. “As soon as Mikey found out he made it, Dylan texted me, ‘This is so great.’”
Having watched a friend’s son grow up alongside your own and develop to the point that he’s now representing his country can leave one at once overjoyed and overcome.
“You can’t stop to think about it because it’s overwhelming,” says Trish. “And when you stop to really think about what they’ve achieved in their young lives it’s amazing.”
With the way things are going it’s a feeling both moms may experience again with their youngest sons.
Both Ryan McLeod (Canada White) and Matthew Strome (Canada Black) competed at the 2015 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and played together on Canada’s National Men’s Summer Under-18 Team at the 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup.
Having been down this road with four sons already, surely it gets easier?
“No,” says Trish, laughing.
“You’re always stressed for them,” says Judi.
But that stress will likely lead to more moments such as the one that played out in the Stromes’ home over the holidays in 2013. With Ryan competing 10 hours away at the World Juniors in Ufa, Russia, the McLeods paid early morning visits to their friends.
“We have pictures of all the kids in their Canada jerseys at four o’clock in the morning watching my oldest boy play,” says Trish. “It was crazy. But they would get up and come over.”
This year the McLeods and Stromes only need to cross the Mississauga-Toronto border. At the Air Canada Centre they can watch their middle sons in a section reserved for Team Canada family members. There may be no section swaying more between uneasiness and elation.
“I will have tears every game,” says Trish. “We’re with our own groups, but we’ll look at each other and we’ll have tears in our eyes.”