On the ice, Oshawa Generals forward Michael Dal Colle improved on his 15-goal, 48-point rookie season with second-year totals of 39 goals and 95 points in 2013-14.
What powered his progress? Why has the 18-year-old Dal Colle put himself in a position to be a top-five selection at the NHL Entry Draft in Philadelphia on Friday?
He's fuelled by his family.
Dal Colle's older brother Joniuca, 22, is autistic. His mother beat breast cancer. This family has been dealt some difficult times, but has kept a stiff upper lip and persevered.
That's why Dal Colle is enthused that his parents, Wendy and Gus, and his sister Daniela will be at the Wells Fargo Center to share in the excitement when his name is called.
But Dal Colle also will be thinking of his older brother Joniuca and grandmother Isabella. The two will be back home in Woodbridge, Ont., taking in the draft proceedings on television.
"He's always in the back of my mind," Dal Colle said in a phone interview this week. "He doesn't have the same opportunity in his life that I have. So I always want to push myself to work hard and be the best. I want to make the most of my opportunity in sports and in life."
'Most special woman'
Dal Colle gets his positive attitude from his mother. Wendy was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and was deemed cancer-free two years later. With the help of his maternal grandmother, Isabella, the family stuck together through Wendy's illness and was inspired by her battle.
"She's the most special woman I know," Dal Colle said. "She means everything to me. I wouldn't be anywhere without her. I love playing the game for her and to repay all the support she's given me.
"I'm excited about Friday. When you're in hockey your parents make sacrifices financially and with their time. It's ridiculous. I've been playing hockey since I was four years old. To have them along for this ride is special."
Daniela also is an accomplished hockey player. She played at Niagara University and studied education and will become a full-time grade-school teacher in the fall.
Her brother wears No. 71 with the Generals because super-skilled Pittsburgh Pengiuns forward Evgeni Malkin is one of his favourites. But Dal Colle, a left wing, is not a flashy performer like Malkin. He plays more like Carolina Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, a player Dal Colle enjoys studying because of his 200-foot game.
Dal Colle's strength is his versatility. He scores big goals, as evident by his strong playoff performance in the OHL this spring, in which he scored eight goals and 20 points in 12 games in the Generals' march to the East final. But he also can kill penalties and has played the point on the Oshawa power play.
Next on Dal Colle's checklist will be to get stronger to raise his physical game, get quicker to adapt to the pro game and continue to work on his defensive play.
Dal Colle already is one of the faster skaters in junior, and scouts expect his 6-foot-1, 179-pound frame to fill out as he gets older.
He will be on the ice plenty this summer to strut his stuff. He will attend the prospects camp of the team that selects him on Friday and Dal Colle has received an invite for the Canadian junior team development camp in early August.
"It's going to be exciting," he said. "The draft is only the start."
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