When it comes to the hockey business, Aimee Patrick's family has a roster of people who could be considered experts in their field.
Dad Steve, older brother Nolan and uncles James Patrick and Rich Chernomaz all have an NHL pedigree, and her older sister Maddie Patrick recently completed a successful U Sports career with the UBC Thunderbirds.
Still, the game didn't always click for Aimee.
"As a kid, I never really enjoyed hockey," she says. "When I was young I hated those mornings, getting up early and having to go to those outdoor practices, but as I grew up I guess it grew on me. I always had the support from my parents and my family and once I started to enjoy it myself, it became easier and more fun."
Aimee also had other expertise to draw upon. Her mom Carrie (Chernomaz) Patrick and aunt Tara Patrick were elite volleyball players at the University of Winnipeg in the 1990s, so it should come as no surprise that another Patrick is excelling in her chosen sport.
"I went through all the steps (Maddie) went through and seeing where she went with it, as a young kid, I always looked up to her and saw that as an opportunity for me, as well," says Aimee. "Ever since I was nine or 10, it's been something I wanted to do."
SPORTS SCHOOL CHALLENGE
When: Jan. 30 to Feb. 2
Bronze-medal game: Feb. 2, 9:15 a.m.
Gold-medal game: Feb. 2, 10 a.m.
Where: Bell MTS Iceplex
Cost: Tournament passes are $20; individual game tickets are $5 (children 12-and-under free).
Teams: St. Mary’s Academy Flames; Calgary Fire; Eastman Selects; Edmonton Pandas; Lloydminster (Alta.) Steelers; Minnesota Ice Cougars; Northern Alberta X-treme; Pilot Mound Buffaloes; Red Deer Sutter Fund Chiefs; Rocky Mountain Raiders; Thompson Okanagan Lakers; Thunder Bay Queens; Vancouver Island Seals; Westman Wildcats; Winnipeg Avros; Winnipeg Ice
The 17-year-old right-winger with the St. Mary's Academy prep team leads her team in scoring with 12 goals and 29 points in 31 games.
Next week, the third-year player will lead the Flames, who are currently fourth in the fiercely competitive Canadian Sports School League, into battle at the Female World Sports School Challenge.
The tournament, created eight years ago by head coach Larry Bumstead, is a major highlight on the team's schedule.
A torn ACL cut short her Grade 10 season and now, with only months left in high school, she is eagerly anticipating a U Sports career at the University of Manitoba.
"This is the first year I feel like I have that confidence and can really showcase that on the ice," says Aimee, one of six seniors on the St. Mary's squad with commitments for university scholarships beginning next fall.
In addition to Patrick, goaltender Meghan Relf (Manitoba), blue-liners Kate Bumstead and Lainie Nichols (Trinity Western) and forward Chloe Oleksiuk (St. Francis Xavier) will continue playing hockey at the next level. Blue-liner Gabi Dawyduk, meanwhile, has accepted a scholarship to play softball at Minot State.
A seventh senior, forward Lindsey Kiliwnik, is currently playing for Australia's U18 team at the Division II, Group A world championship in the Netherlands.
Oleksiuk, 17, is in the midst of an excellent season.
She's second in team scoring with 24 points in 30 games after making a favourable impression at a September university showcase in Stoney Creek, Ont. There, Oleksiuk got the attention of recruiters from St. FX and she's planning to enrol in the school's biomedical sciences program in fall.
Oleksiuk was attracted to the Antigonish, N.S., school by its track record and she believes her game has rounded into form.
"I think my entire game as a player, my speed, my stickhandling, my individual skill (has improved)," she says. "I also think, mentally, I've become stronger. From Grade 10 until now, I'm a completely different player."
Oleksiuk welcomes the chance to play at home next week, since the Flames are often on the road.
"It's one of the highlights and something to look forward to because we're the hosts and it's such a big tournament," she says. "I love playing at home."
For Bumstead, the start of her university career will signal a major change. She's been coached for most of her minor hockey career and for all four years at St. Mary's by her dad, Larry.
Trinity Western, based in Langley, B.C., is a smaller school with a proud athletic tradition. However, the school's women's hockey team is currently in its first year of operation and it will become a U Sports team in 2020-21.
"I think it's a really good opportunity because it's the first year having a female hockey team and then next year they're joining U Sports, so it'll be exciting to be part of a new franchise," says Kate, who is entering the TWU education faculty and would like to become an early ages teacher.
"The school, academic-wise, really appealed to me. It's a small school, which I really like, and close knit."
The 17-year-old has five goals and 11 points in 32 games.
"In Grade 9 I was a lot less confident in all my plays," she says. "I came from boys hockey and had never played girls hockey and I was kind of out of my element. I think now I have so much more confidence with the puck, more patient with it... and I've definitely improved my foot speed and my hockey IQ."
"I look forward (to the tournament) every year," she says, recalling the Flames loss in last year's tournament final. "Playing at home is a very big deal, because we don't get to do it very often with our travel."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.