Seven hours, 425 miles, and one international border. That is how long it takes for Minnesota State Maverick sophomore, Alexis Paddington, to drive home. Whether she considers her native Canada or Minnesota home, is the question.
I had the recent honor of sitting with Alexis to chat about her career, Hockey Night in Canada, her wonderful family, and more. Her story is more of a journey – multiple journeys, in fact. From Thunder Bay, ON to Mankato, MN, from injury to stardom, and from a three-year-old lacing up her skates for the first time, to a Minnesota State Maverick.
Alexis began her hockey career playing in her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario – a stunningly beautiful area on the shore of Lake Superior. She first laced up her skates at the age of three years old on her backyard rink. As her skills developed, she began competing in leagues in and around Thunder Bay. After dominating AA boys hockey, she made the switch to girls AAA hockey to get more exposure. She was a multi-sport athlete in high school (she also was in dance, and played volleyball, tennis, and basketball).
Her parents were both heavily involved in the basketball community at the time, so they urged her to play basketball. However, what really wanted to do, was to play hockey. She obviously made the correct decision as she excelled at the game and led her hometown Thunder Bay Queens (OWHA) to a 2019 Can/Am Cup Gold Medal.
When she announced that she was moving away, Paddington stated “I think my parents felt all the emotions imaginable when they found out I was going to be moving to play hockey in the United States. They knew it was what I wanted and I think they also wanted me to continue playing hockey in college. For them growing up, watching me play, they want nothing more [than] to see me keep playing and growing as a player.”
As with many great athletes, Alexis has been faced with injuries, including knee surgery, just eight months before her career at Minnesota State began. Like her favorite NHL player, Mitch Marner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, though she had a long recovery period, she came back with a vengeance, scoring 6 goals and 8 assists during her freshman year. As a result, her teammates at MSU voted her “Rookie of the Year”, an achievement that she lists as one of her favorites thus far in her hockey career.
Coupled with the fact that COVID restrictions made it impossible for her to cross the Minnesota/Canada border for a substantial amount of time last year, she has certainly overcome a lot in her young career. While she had received invitations to OWHA (Ontario Women’s Hockey Association) program which would have given her exposure of a national team-level, her knee injury and COVID resulted in her “slipping through the cracks”, if you will.
However, she has a heart the size of Canada, and perhaps she will become the next great hockey Ontarian behind Wayne Gretzky and the legend, Don “Grapes” Cherry. There are still a lot of games in her future and a never-ending drive to improve her game.
During our conversation, we talked about how players are often overlooked because the nearest major metropolitan area to Thunder Bay, is actually the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, MN. She said that girls from the Toronto area get more exposure from a hockey standpoint and her brother E.J., who is carving his own hockey legacy on the ice, agrees with her older sister saying in a recent interview, that boy and girl players often “get passed over”.
Perhaps Alexis’ hockey success is due to cheering for a winning hockey team in the Toronto Maple Leafs, while her dad and brothers all cheer for the Montreal Canadiens. I mean, it makes sense. Apologies to all Canadiens fans out there. Or shall I say “Je suis désolé” 🙂 Quite possibly, her athletic drive and skills come from her family.
Her father, Dave, is a former junior football player for the Thunder Bay Giants. He was also a hockey and basketball coach and is now a board member for the Thunder Bay Kings and Queens hockey organizations. Her mother, Carolyne, is a stellar tennis player and played four years of college basketball for Lakehead University.
The aforementioned, E.J. was drafted by the Soo Greyhounds in 2021. The youngest in the Paddington family, Benny, who has helped his family with their backyard ice rink during the winters. He is perhaps the luckiest member of the family, with four strong, determined, and committed family members to look up to and learn from. The rink behind the Paddington home was even named the best backyard rink by Home Depot. Alexis fondly remembers that “Saturday nights were pizza and backyard hockey night” at home.
Asked what part of her game is the strongest, the financial planning/insurance major, Paddington replied by saying that she’s “a playmaker and I can ‘see’ the ice in a sense.” She’s excited about being a sophomore on the team this year, instead of a freshman. Her hockey dream? “Play for Team Canada, and win a national championship” with her teammates at MSU.
I asked Alexis what her favorite hockey moment has been so far in her career. Aside from being voted as the MSU Rookie of the Year, she stated that she is “a homebody and loves her family, so having my family being able to watch her play” is something that she cherishes. She remembers scoring her first collegiate goal against St. Thomas and immediately looking up into the crowd and finding her dad. With a smile as big as the Great Lakes, she told me that her dad has always been her hero.
As Alexis and the Mavericks prepare for another season of hockey, they are keeping in mind the heartbreaking loss to the number 4-ranked UMD in last year’s playoffs. When asked what the Mavs need to do this year to contend for a championship, Paddington said that the team needs to “trust in each other.” She added that they have a lot of depth and skills, so the rest will come.
Like any journey in life, we are often met with roadblocks and detours. Sometimes, that results in having to take a different path than expected. For Alexis Paddington, her journey has brought her to Minnesota and her road here hasn’t always been easy (aside from Minnesota being the Land of 10,000 Potholes). Then again, the best things in life are not easy to come by. From our one meeting, I see that she has a bright future and much success on her horizon.
For everything she has already accomplished in her young career, she remains humble. Humble enough to know that she has more work to do, more hours to spend on the ice, and more skills and speed to develop. But the fact is, she loves it. The game, her teammates, her coaches, the preparation, and even, the taping of her sticks before every game.
Alexis Paddington is everything that you hope for in a player, a daughter, a teammate, a sister, and one day, perhaps, even a member of Team Canada. She’s in control of her journey and she’s driving down the long, arduous road to success. Lucky for us, we can come along for the ride.
Best of luck to Alexis and the Mavericks this season – or shall I say “best of luck” to their opponents. Horns up, ladies!!!