Caleb Desnoyers comes from a hockey family that has made its mark in Saint-Hyacinthe, Que.
"We eat hockey. Whether I'm at my mom's or dad's house, there's always hockey on TV and we talk about our recent games."
The 16-year-old forward for the Gaulois de Saint-Hyacinthe, the host team for the 2023 Men's U18 National Club Championship, naturally followed in the footsteps of his older brother Elliot, a former Gaulois who won gold with Team Canada at the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship and is now skating in the Philadelphia Flyers organization.
His father David patrolled the blue line for the now-defunct Saint-Hyacinthe Laser in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League in the early 1990s, helping Martin Brodeur protect his net.
"As soon as I learned to walk, I learned to skate," Caleb says. “It was mostly my mom and dad who showed me how. Elliot has always given me tips since I was young. Being surrounded with a hockey family really helped me."
David remembers how Caleb was attracted by hockey from a young age.
"I can still see him at Elliot’s tournaments when he was about five, chewing his gum in the arena and focusing on the game," David says. “He's loved it for a long time."
This week, Caleb is relishing the opportunity to shine on the national stage with his hometown team, five years after watching his brother wear the same jersey.
"When I'm at my dad's house, I'm two blocks away from Stade L.-P.-Gaucher. We're happy to make our city proud. It’s so nice to be able to complete our journey to the national championship after such a great year."
The Gaulois finished the regular season in fifth place in the Ligue de développement du hockey M18 AAA du Québec (LDHM18AAAQ). But that 26-16-0 record didn’t tell the whole story; Saint-Hyacinthe won the CCM Challenge in December and triumphed in the Classique des champions, the new year-end playoff tournament, in April. That win, on home ice against the Blizzard du Séminaire Saint-François in the final, sent the Gaulois to the national championship through the front door.
"We were so proud of ourselves. We wanted to prove to the entire country that we belonged to the national championship. We hadn't seen that many people packing our rink in quite a long time," Caleb says.
It was the end of a long, hard road for Caleb and the Gaulois, made that much better by having his father and grandfather by his side.
"They had just played their 15th game in 31 days in the playoffs," David says. "Caleb played injured the last five or six games of the playoffs. I was impressed with what the Gaulois had accomplished for Saint-Hyacinthe."
Elliot and their mother, Martine, were not able to experience the magical moment in person, but they were following the action from afar.
"My mom was in Lehigh Valley (home of the Flyers' AHL affiliate) with my stepdad that weekend to see Elliot. Right after the game, during the on-ice celebrations, they called to congratulate me," Caleb says.
Harder than expected
Caleb had a great season, finishing third in LHDM18AAAQ scoring with 23 goals and 53 points in 42 games, but it didn't start the way he wanted; he managed just nine points in his first 11 games.
"I had set high expectations and every game I wanted more,” he says. “It wasn't easy; I was asking myself a lot of questions to find solutions. It finally started to work, and it has never stopped since.”
"[Caleb has] matured a lot this year,” says Gaulois head coach Jean-Philippe Sansfacon. “He talks in the room even though he doesn't have a letter on his jersey. He didn't like his start to the season, and he persevered to get the respect he wanted to have."
That respect has made him a top prospect for the upcoming QMJHL Entry Draft . He’ll try and outdo Elliot, who went 18th overall to Moncton in 2018.
Out of sight, close to the heart
Caleb and Elliot have been apart since Elliot's junior hockey days, but brothers still maintain a strong bond between them.
"Elliot watches many of Caleb's games from away and gives him feedback," their father says. “And whenever he can, he goes on the ice with him. He drove back here on Dec. 23 from Springfield with his hockey gear in a big snowstorm, and on the morning of the 24th, instead of taking a break, he wanted to play with Caleb and [their] friends."
Some in the hockey community may compare the brothers. Caleb, though, wants to make a name for himself.
"Every time I see Elliot move up the ladder, it makes me want to do more to reach him. We have our own qualities as hockey players. I'm trying to create my own path and get as far as I can so that one day, Elliot will be called Caleb's brother and not the other way around," Caleb says with a big smile.
(Main photo courtesy of Laurent Corbeil)