(Courtesy of Kirk Penton, Winnipeg Sun) — Athletic superiority is nothing new. Plenty of people from all over Manitoba have it and put it on display through many sports.
Sometimes it even covers two generations of a family. Maybe it’s a father-son, mother-daughter or uncle-niece combination that makes plenty of sense when you consider the genes involved.
Three generations, however, is rather rare, and that’s why the Patrick family stands out from the rest. It all started with Steve Patrick on the football field more than 60 years ago, and it continues today with young Nolan Patrick starring on the ice for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
And there is plenty of athletic pedigree in between.
If grandpa Steve and grandson Nolan are at opposite ends of the Patrick sporting clan, the husband and wife duo of Stephen and Carrie are at the middle of it all. They were the ones who merged two athletic families to create an extraordinary one.
Carrie Chernomaz, as she was known at the time, came to Winnipeg from her home Port Alberni, B.C., in the early 1990s to play volleyball for the powerhouse University of Winnipeg Wesmen. She went on to become a first team All-Canadian and a national champion, and she ended up falling in love with Stephen, the older brother of one her teammates, Tara Patrick.
Carrie’s future husband, who appeared in 250 NHL games for Buffalo, New York Rangers and Quebec, wasn’t the only one who played in the NHL. Her brother, Rich Chernomaz, suited up for the Colorado Rockies, New Jersey Devils and Calgary Flames.
“We both come from hockey families,” Carrie says. “It’s funny, because in the last little bit here there’s been articles on Nolan and it always talks about Stephen’s side of the family, right? So I’ll have a few Facebook posts from my girlfriends and they go, ‘Great article, but don’t they know there’s two sides to the family?’ ”
James Patrick, who is Steve’s son, Stephen’s brother, Carrie’s brother-in-law and Nolan’s uncle (there will be a test later), played 1,280 games in the NHL and is currently an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars. So he knows a thing or two about hockey, and he believes Carrie, who would have played for the Canadian women’s volleyball team at the 1996 Summer Olympics were it not for a torn ACL, has had a huge impact on Nolan’s hockey success.
“We’re all a product of our environment, and we’re all a product of genes,” James says. “I see some of his dad in him, but his mom was probably a better athlete than his dad. She was a great volleyball player. She made the Canadian Olympic team and blew her knee out. That’s the level she was at.
“I remember early in their marriage when Carrie picked up golf, and I went ‘Oh my God.’ She swung the club like an athlete. She wasn’t tall, but when she spiked a volleyball she hit with power. That’s how she hit a golf ball. You could just see her natural talent. Not only that, but her intensity. Carrie’s got some bite to her. She doesn’t back down from anyone.
“A lot of her athletic ability has definitely been passed on to their kids. And I know her stand-up and won’t-back-down attitude, if Nolan has that he’ll do well.”
Nolan isn’t the only third-generation Patrick enjoying success. His older sister Maddie plays defence for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds and notched five points in her rookie Canada West campaign this winter. Also, their sister Aimee is an up-and-comer in girls’ hockey currently playing for the Titans 12A squad.
“She’s probably the most aggressive out of all three of them,” Carrie says with a chuckle.
So how did the Patrick/Chernomaz clan get to this level of athletic dominance? They say it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.
“Stephen and I both come from families where our parents just put us in activities,” Carrie says. “Stephen played hockey obviously, and I did quite a few sports. I was in gymnastics and volleyball, and volleyball was the sport that I thrived in. I loved it and was passionate about it.
“… My mom was athletic. My mom was a very good softball player. My dad was a curler.”
The Patrick family was headed by Steve, who won four Grey Cups with the Bombers in the late 1950s and early 1960s, but hockey is what the boys fell in love with thanks to the nearby outdoor rinks in their St. James neighbourhood. The five girls in the family – Kim, Carolyn, Sandra, Lisa and Tara – were all active in high school sports.
“All my sisters were real good high school athletes,” James says. “Sandra was athlete of the year at Sturgeon Creek. I don’t know if it’s genes or if we were real lucky to have sports around us so much. That’s the way it was growing up on our street. I think there’s a thousand other streets like that in Winnipeg.”
Steve Patrick, who passed away in January 2014, went on to bigger and better things after football, including serving as an MLA for St. James Assiniboia from 1962 to 1977. That meant it wasn’t all sports, all the time.
“In our house my dad talked about current events and politics mostly,” James says. “As a former athlete and a parent of kids who are athletes, it was said over and over and again: Work hard and compete. And that’s about it. He let us play. Our parents were different than us.”
That doesn’t mean the family patriarch didn’t dispense valuable life lessons.
“I was pretty close with him,” Nolan says of his grandpa. “When I was growing up he would take me to the driving range quite a bit, and I remember him buying me a few golf clubs. He was always telling me to be good in school. Sports is one thing, but you gotta fall back on something so make sure your marks are up. He was pretty tough on that part.”
UNCLE’S INFLUENCE BIG PART OF YOUNGER PATRICKS’ DEVELOPMENT
James Patrick attributes his and his brother’s NHL careers to having outdoor hockey rinks nearby at all times growing up in St. James. Also having future NHLer Bobby Joyce growing up two houses down increased the competition level.
No iPads, a lack of several 24-hour cartoon channels and parents having no fear about leaving their children alone outside for hours on end helped, too.
“We used to put our skates on at the back door, and it would be maybe a one hundred yard walk to where they would flood the ice patch,” James says. “It was right behind Bruce (Middle School).”
It’s a different era now, however. Kids don’t spend hours upon hours at the outdoor rink, and if they do play hockey they’re doing it all year long. That’s where having a dad and an uncle who played in the NHL comes in handy.
James Patrick started training his nephew, Nolan, when the young lad was 11 years old. Both families had cabins at Falcon Lake, and Nolan wanted to learn.
“From the time he was 11 we started exercising, shooting pucks and just doing stuff that was appropriate at the age that he was,” James says. It became more of a regimented program when he was 12 and 13, and then the training went up a notch when he turned 14.
“When I was 12 I worked out with him the whole summer and he was pretty tough on me, so that helped me a lot,” Nolan says. “Then the next year me and my buddy both worked out with him. He’s been huge in my career so far.
“My uncle and my dad are way different people. My dad’s more of a jokester, and my uncle’s more serious. I know he would get mad at me sometimes for goofing around and changing the radio station while we were working out. He was pretty strict on me, but it’s helped me quite a bit.”
James and Nolan talk every day, but James is trying to make sure he doesn’t take on the role of overbearing adult.
“Where Nolan is in his career right now, I want to be helpful but I don’t want to be smothering,” James says, “because he’s still gotta have fun and he’ll learn from his mistakes.
“He has the potential to possibly some day play in the NHL. That will be totally up to him. That’ll be whether he has the internal fortitude and if he has the drive and if he has the desire.”
Nolan is at the point in his career where he’s trying to make a name for himself, even if the name bar on his back makes it tough sometimes.
“Some players might say ‘He got more hype because of his name’ or something like that, but I try to be my own player and my own person,” Nolan says. “I thank (my family) a lot for the help they gave me, but I’m trying to make my own career.”
Patrick has burst on to the WHL scene in his rookie year, scoring 26 goals and adding 23 assists in 52 games for the high-flying Wheat Kings. He has missed most of the last month with an upper-body injury, however, and it’s not known if he’ll be back in time for the playoffs, which begin at the end of the month.
POSITIVE PARENTING WORKS WONDERS
When Stephen and Carrie Patrick began to expand their family in the mid-1990s, they weren’t gunning to produce elite athletes.
It’s only turned out that way.
“We were out to have healthy children,” Carrie says. “The first time we put Nolan on the ice he kicked and screamed. And so did Aimee. And it wasn’t until we put Maddie in all girls’ hockey at the age of 10 that she really started to like hockey. We put the rink in the back yard and just made it fun. It just sort of progressed from there.
“Did we think we were going to create Olympic athletes? No, not at all. When you’re making babies, you want them to be healthy and happy. And that’s all we want for them still to this day.”
Their three children – Maddie, Nolan and Aimee – are close today, even though they are still teenagers living in different cities. They will all be together in the summer, though.
“My little sister’s really into hockey,” Nolan says. “She always texts me after she scores goals. She gets pretty excited about that, and my older sister still likes it too. She’s working out all throughout the summer, so it’s been good for them, too.”
Maddie and Nolan haven’t gotten to the point where they work out together, but it’s close.
“My sister actually works out at the gym right beside me,” Nolan says. “So we usually catch a ride together.”
There with them every step of the way are Stephen and Carrie.
“We’re competitive parents, but we’re not intense. We’re not crazy parents,” Carrie says. “We give them the opportunity and we give them the feedback, but we’re always really positive with the kids.”
GETTING TO KNOW THE PATRICK CLAN
Steve Patrick – He spent 13 seasons with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and won four Grey Cups in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He’s a member of the Winnipeg Football Club and Manitoba Sports halls of fame.
James Patrick – The New York Rangers drafted him ninth overall in the 1981 NHL draft, and he went on to play 1,280 games for four teams. He’s now an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars.
Steve Patrick – The Buffalo Sabres drafted him 20th overall in the 1980 NHL draft, and he appeared in 250 games for three teams. He starred for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings.
Carrie Patrick (nee Chernomaz) – She played for the University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s volleyball team with Tara Patrick and would have competed for the Canadian team at the 1996 Summer Olympics were it not for a knee injury.
Tara Patrick – She played for the University of Winnipeg Wesmen women’s volleyball team and was the CIAU (CIS) rookie of the year in 1990-91.
Rich Chernomaz – Carrie Patrick’s brother was actually born in Selkirk but raised in Port Alberni, B.C. He appeared in 51 games for Calgary and New Jersey, and now coaches in Germany and Hungary.
Sandra Patrick – She was once the female athlete of the year at Sturgeon Creek High School.
Maddie Patrick – The former St. Mary’s Flames star defenceman just completed her first season with the UBC Thunderbirds. She had five points in 17 Canada West games as a rookie.
Nolan Patrick – The Brandon Wheat Kings picked Maddie’s younger brother fourth overall in the 2013 bantam draft, and he has scored 26 goals in 52 WHL games as a 16-year-old this season. He could be a high pick in the 2017 NHL draft.