Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
EDMONTON – Her name was called in front of hundreds of her peers at the MacEwan Athletics banquet last March.
Jaime Erickson, women's hockey most improved player.
That's saying something on a team that took a giant leap forward last season in winning their first ACAC Championship since 2008. But among all the positive individual developments, Erickson stood out the most to Lindsay McAlpine.
"She came in as a sixth, seventh, eighth D and as the season went on, she progressed more than we expected," said the Griffins head coach. "She ended up getting a lot of special team time and at the end of the season she'd secured herself a top-six role."
Erickson, who came in as a rookie out of Sherwood Park Midget AAA in 2016, admitted butterflies were a big factor at the start of her ACAC women's hockey career.
"I was pretty nervous at the beginning of last year, but this year's been a lot easier to just go with the flow," she said. "As the year progressed you just build relationships with everyone and it's a lot easier to show your strengths more."
She's flourishing even more this season, adding a spot on the power-play to her repertoire. Erickson has two assists in eight games this season for the Griffins, who remain unbeaten in regulation (7-0-1) and atop the standings ahead of a weekend series with Olds (Thursday in Olds, 7 p.m. and Friday, 7 p.m., Downtown Community Arena).
"She continues to grow," said McAlpine. "She's a really solid force at the net front – good physical defenceman, has a great stick and has become quite offensive for us, as well.
"She's a great puck distributor – sees the ice well."
Part of that comes with building relationships and your comfort level. Erickson admitted she's progressed a mile in that area.
"I think I've gained a lot more trust on the team as a player," she said. "I think I've developed a lot more skill-set offensively. I think I've generated a lot more offence this year. I think that has to do with a lot more confidence on the ice."
Erickson grew up in Edmonton surrounded by hockey influences – two male cousins currently play Junior B – and her dad also played the game. After playing in Sherwood Park with current Griffins teammates Jill MacWilliam and Keely Vachon, she was already leaning towards attending MacEwan before McAlpine even touched base. That's because her grandfather Paul Richards is a longtime friend and business associate of Bill Comrie, who recently made a generous $1.5 million endowed donation to the university's hockey programs.
Just last month, Comrie was on hand at the Downtown Community Arena to present the first set of scholarships to 12 men's and women's players on the Griffins. And Erickson's grandfather was in the stands, as he is for every game.
"He was super excited to hear Bill was coming back," she said. "When we introduced the Bill Comrie High Performance Centre, he was super excited to come see Bill."
With her family watching, Erickson is eager for another big performance this weekend as the Griffins meet the Broncos for the first time in the 2017-18 season. Although Olds is 3-5-0 in the standings, they've proven to be a team the Griffins can't take lightly.
"Olds has had a great start, so I hope our mindset is a little different going in," said McAlpine. "I think we've lost the first game to them each season on the road, so … it is a bit of a curse for us; it would be nice to break that. I think we've got good momentum right now as a team. We're rolling well offensively, which has tended to be a struggle for us.
"They've recruited a good goalie, so that's what's kind of turned their program around slightly. I think if we can beat her early we'll find success."