Joseph on torrid pace for surging Sea Dogs

Saint John Sea Dogs forward Mathieu Joseph ended the month of January on a 25-game points streak, setting a new franchise record in the process.

But the fourth-year veteran from Chambly, Que., has the milestone in perspective.

“It’s a fun record, but hopefully it helps the team win,” the 19-year-old said. “That’s all that matters.”

Before the streak became the talk of the town, things had already been going well for Joseph. During the Christmas holidays, he signed an entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning while helping Team Canada win a silver medal at the world junior championship.

Since returning to Saint John, Joseph has turned his focus to pursuing something he hasn’t experienced: winning a QMJHL championship. He started last year’s playoffs on a blistering pace, scoring five goals and adding two assists in five first-round games against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.

But a laceration to his calf cut short his promising post-season. The Sea Dogs’ spirited run ended with a five-game semifinal setback to the Shawinigan Cataractes.

With this season likely being Joseph’s last in the major junior ranks, there’s a sense of urgency on the veteran-laden squad.

“We’re trying to make a good push for playoffs,” he said. “We really want to be first in our division and it’s a hard division. There are some good teams in our division and every team is working hard.

“Every team is ready to play against us and we have to be ready every game. Every game is a challenge. At the end of the day, we’re trying to be in the best spot possible for playoffs and trying to go for the President Cup.”

The Sea Dogs haven’t won a QMJHL championship since 2011-12, the season in which Zack Phillips posted a 22-game points streak, the mark Joseph shattered on Jan. 21. The Port City squad has made every effort to return to championship form.

Rookie general manager Trevor Georgie pulled the trigger on trades to acquire goalie Callum Booth, defenceman Simon Bourque and forward Julien Gauthier. Adding that trio to an already strong lineup has fans in Saint John believing their team will play in May.

Along the way, all eyes will be on Joseph and his streak, the league’s longest this season.

“When the team is going well, it’s way easier for me to go well,” he said. “I owe a lot to my teammates and my coach (Danny Flynn). They have confidence in what I can do and I have confidence in my linemates and my teammates. They all helped me to make this record happen, but it doesn’t really matter if we don’t win games.”

With deadly speed and more moves than Bruno Mars, Joseph’s talent is obvious. But his success also stems from a skill that comes with time.

“As a hockey player, you want to be as consistent as you can,” he said. “It was something I was struggling with when I was 16 and a little bit when I was 17.

“I was trying to be consistent every game and I’ve just improved that a lot by adapting to the league. I’ll have to keep going like that if I want to play pro next year.”

That scenario looks very likely. The Lightning drafted Joseph in the fourth round after a 42-point season in 2014-15. He rewarded them by racking up 73 last year, setting the stage for his success in the current campaign.

“He’s been remarkably consistent and he does a real good job of being well prepared to play,” Flynn said of Joseph. “He’s really matured in the last two years. I think signing an NHL contract and getting a chance to play in the world juniors was another step in his confidence level. He works hard every day and he’s hungry to succeed.

“There are very few days when he doesn’t give you his best. Whether that’s game to game or it’s every day in practice, he has a good work ethic and a good compete level. When you put those things together, you’re going to improve and we’ve seen steady improvement from him.”

Another highlight for Joseph this season is seeing his younger brother succeed. Pierre-Olivier Joseph, a 17-year-old defenceman with the Charlottetown Islanders, was selected to play for Team Cherry in this year’s Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City.

“I have a little more experience than him, so it’s easy for me to give him a little advice here and there,” the eldest Joseph said. “I’m really happy for him. He’s been ranked pretty well so far, but rankings don’t really mean anything if you don’t prove what you can do. But I think he’s proving to everyone so far that he’s a pretty good hockey player and I’m happy that he’s doing well, but I still want to beat him.”

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