Stars' Jamie Oleksiak inspired by sister Penny's hard work

Jamie and Penny Oleksiak are separated by seven years and different sports, but the Dallas Stars defenceman has been motivated by his younger sister's hard work as he tries to find his way in the NHL.

'Penny’s brother' trying to gain coach Lindy Ruff's trust on Stars blue line

Stars defenceman Jamie Oleksiak, left, has been motivated by the hard work of his 16-year-old sister and four-time Rio Olympic medallist Penny, right, in his attempt at a regular role in the NHL. (Getty Images/Canadian Press/CBC Sports)

Jamie Oleksiak spent Wednesday morning with his Dallas Stars teammates signing autographs, playing games, posing for pictures and helping kids smile at the NHL team's annual Christmas visit to Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children.

During a break, he came across a tweet about his younger sister, Penny, lowering her Canadian record in the 100-metre freestyle and helping set a national mark in the 4x50 medley relay at the world short-course swimming championships in Windsor, Ont.

"I'll definitely send her a text soon to congratulate her and tell her to keep it going," Oleksiak told CBC Sports later in a phone interview. "This is huge for her to have a big moment after the Olympics."

Oleksiak's sister is getting star treatment at the WFCU Centre as kids thrust pens and paper in her direction after she won Canada's first-ever women's medal in the 100 freestyle at the Rio Olympics in August. The 16-year-old went on to become the first Canadian to win four medals at a single Summer Olympic Games.

"To watch Penny race [in Rio] and share that experience as a family was nice," said the 23-year-old Oleksiak, a six-foot-seven, 250-pound defenceman in his fifth season with Dallas. "Whenever your sister represents your country like that, it motivates you.

"She has a good head on her shoulders and definitely loves what she does. The hard work she has put in has definitely made me want to work a little harder."

Her new big thing is she wants a car. I told her she has to get her driver's licence first. One step at a time.- Dallas Stars defenceman Jamie Oleksiak on his younger sister Penny

Separated by seven years, they speak regularly by text message and have seen their relationship grow, especially since Rio, Oleksiak said. These days, the conversation is less about Penny's feats in the pool or Jamie's highlight-reel goal against St. Louis on Nov. 28 and more about Christmas gifts for the family and other things close to their heart.

"I'll catch up with her and check up on her cat that she got recently," said Oleksiak, known as "Penny's brother" to his teammates. "Her new big thing is she wants a car. I told her she has to get her driver's licence first. One step at a time."

That approach is helping Oleksiak handle the challenges of being used sparingly on the Dallas blue line. Injured in early October, the Toronto native has been a healthy scratch most of the time, having appeared in only 11 of the Stars' 27 games through Wednesday.

"It's difficult as a young player because you know you're going to make mistakes and that's how you learn," Oleksiak said of being shuffled in and out of the lineup. "I see it as an opportunity to improve yourself and challenge yourself."

Crowded blue line

A first-round draft pick (14th overall) by Dallas in 2011, Oleksiak missed most of last season as a healthy scratch, playing just 19 of 82 games.

He could find himself the odd man out again as Stars head coach Lindy Ruff will soon have nine defencemen available when Johnny Oduya and Julius Honka return from injury. Last season, Ruff carried eight defencemen and predominantly kept his top six the same from game to game.

However, Oleksiak might have helped his cause in a game against St. Louis in November. With only two goals in his previous 87 NHL games, Oleksiak stickhandled past St. Louis forward David Perron in the neutral zone and then defenceman Alex Pietrangelo a few feet inside the Blues' blue line before lifting a shot to the short side and over the blocker of goalie Jake Allen.

He later forced overtime on a shot from the point that eluded Allen after the puck deflected off a St. Louis player. But in his first 3-on-3 OT, Oleksiak left Vladimir Tarasenko alone and the Blues' leading scorer took a pass from Jori Lehtera and beat netminder Antti Niemi to end the game.

"The positive I tried to take is that [Ruff] saw I can play against [Perron and Pietrangelo], some of the best players in the league," Oleksiak said. "Hopefully it builds a little more trust, a little more confidence in my play and I'll get more opportunities."

Oleksiak noted he's more confident handling the puck this season and joining the rush. And while his 11 hits and 14 blocked shots are down from last season, Oleksiak is better positioned in the defensive end.

"I'm taking it day by day, trying to get better," he said. "I just want to play and help the team win."


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