Pattyn skates in senior season

He was barely walking, but his skates were laced, and he was on the ice by age 2.

At least, that’s what Stephane Pattyn was told.

“I can’t really remember being a kid,” Pattyn said with a laugh.

But his years in a North Dakota jersey are hard to forget.

Now in his senior season with the UND men’s hockey team, Pattyn serves as the captain for a team that has been though slow starts that ended up on the familiar road to the Frozen Four, a bus ride home from an outdoor game that was stopped in its tracks in a snowstorm and evenings at Ralph Engelstad Arena spent in front of sellout crowds and loyal fans.

“I think coming in freshman year, I was kind of in awe,” Pattyn said. “It’s hard to explain. It was a dream come true more than anything. And now I’m kind of just living it out because these past four years have flown by.”

The Ste. Anne, Manitoba native joined North Dakota’s program during the 2011-12 season and never missed a game in his freshman year.

Pattyn scored his first career goal on Jan. 27, 2012 against Wisconsin. There was 1:54 left in the third period, and his game-winner helped UND defeat Wisconsin 5-3 that night — on his 21st birthday.

Pattyn has only missed one game throughout his collegiate career, and leads all active NCAA Division I players with 125 games played.

That doesn’t mean he is without setbacks.

“I haven’t been healthy in three years,” Pattyn said. “I’m not one to take a game off if I have a little nagging injury or something, so it’s kind of just been something I’ve battled through or prepared my body for.”

The battles he fights might not be visible to the fans, but his consistency in leading by example remains one of his greatest strengths.

“To play through some of the things he’s plays through takes mental toughness,” UND coach Dave Hakstol said. “Everyone eludes to the physical toughness — that’s the obvious one.

“It’s not just a badge of honor to be in the lineup. If you’re in the lineup, you’re expected to go out and do a job and do it at a high level, whether you’re at 100 percent healthy or not. And I think that’s one element that Steph certainly has within his makeup. He can rise above things with his mental outlook and his mental toughness.”

This season, Pattyn is leading a team that has an outlook surpassing last year’s outcome that ended in last-second heartbreak, yet its focus remains on each task at hand.

Leaders in the past each had their styles, and Pattyn remembers his former teammates teaching him valuable lessons he would use in his future.

This year, Pattyn carries much the same traits.

“It’s just his presence,” Hakstol said. “That’s where it starts. I think he’s well-respected in all of the things he does on the ice and off the ice. He has a distinct presence about him. That’s different with every type of leader — what exactly that is. But he has that presence.”

That presence is felt by his teammates as they see Pattyn as a not only a vocal leader, but a dedicated teammate who leads by example.

“He obviously goes on the ice every day, works his butt off, does the hard work in the corners and stuff, and, even on top of that, can score goals and stuff, too,” UND junior goaltender Zane McIntyre said. “So it’s pretty impressive. And then just the kind of human being he is, the kind of person he is — how he carries himself.”

Pattyn said he doesn’t see much change in himself, but the outcome of the team’s battles so far this season have set an unfamiliar tone to a team used to fighting for a chance to fix its slow start.

While North Dakota typically has been known as a second-half team, its pair of losses this season have established a 8-2-1 record that has garnered a No. 2 spot in national rankings.

The team will travel to St. Cloud State this weekend, looking to avenge its three losses to the Huskies last season.

It won’t be skating on its familiar ice in Grand Forks, but the level of support from the community will still be evident.

“It’s unbelievable,” Pattyn said. “On the road, we have so many fans supporting us everywhere we go and it’s just something no other team in the country can relate to, which is something really special.”

What Pattyn holds as his first memory in front of thousands of fans at Ralph Engelstad Arena in 2011 is still clear.

“The Manitoba game,” Pattyn said. “When they said the ‘Sioux’ at the end of the national anthem, I had such chills down my back. It was a very overwhelming feeling.”

Elizabeth Erickson is the sports editor of The Dakota Student. She can be reached at [email protected].