No one had a better seat for Alexis Lafreniere’s journey to becoming the first-overall pick by the Rangers in the 2020 NHL Draft than his older sister, Lori-Jane.
She was there in the very beginning, crouching in the goal made out of Kleenex boxes in their grandparent’s basement — in full padding — for his very first shots on net. She was at almost every Midget Triple-A game, where the first rumblings of his unequivocal talent began. And she was sitting right next to him when the Rangers announced his name on Oct. 6.
To parents Hugo and Nathalie Lafreniere, Lori-Jane has always made it a priority of hers to be there for Alexis.
Even more of a priority than her own health.
In late September, Lori-Jane received a call from the doctor to schedule an important surgery she had been waiting to get for months. But once she was told it was to be on the same day as the draft, the 21-year-old without hesitation said she couldn’t make that date. It was her little brother’s big day.
She put off the surgery, not knowing when another spot would open up. But it meant everything to her brother, so it meant everything to her.
While growing up in Saint-Eustache, an off-island suburb of western Quebec, Lori-Jane watched as her brother’s infatuation with hockey morphed into a way of life. She, too, had a deep appreciation for the sport, and it instantly forged the special brother-sister bond they continue to have to this day.
“Since I was a little kid, I followed my brother’s passion for hockey,” Lori-Jane told The Post through a French-Canadian translator.
Following Alexis’ devotion to hockey landed Lori-Jane a job as his personal goaltender early on in their childhood. She recalls how he used to beg her to suit up in goal every day and how she always complied.
But as much as Lori-Jane loved hockey, her true passion was for soccer, which meant she wasn’t exactly the kind of opponent Alexis was looking for.
“I’d even get mad at her when she wouldn’t cover all her angles, because I needed to be more challenged to get better,” the 19-year-old winger told The Post’s Steve Serby in a Q&A last month. “Looking back now, I realize how important my own dreams were to her, and I hope she knows her dreams are just as important to me.”
Lori-Jane, who went on to play soccer at the University of Montreal for two years before she decided to focus on studying primary education, said she never even bothered asking Alexis to play goalie for her when she practiced growing up.
She recognized early on how gifted he was and knew he was destined to be something spectacular.
“I know I did a lot of things for my brother’s career because I always saw the potential he had,” she said. “But I never considered anything I did for him a sacrifice.”
When the Rimouski Oceanic drafted him first-overall in the 2017 Quebec Major Hockey League Draft, Alexis’ dreams of playing in the NHL became more of an objective, according to his parents. He was consistently at the top of the league, from getting named CHL and QMJHL Rookie of the Year in 2017-18 to earning the Mike Bossy Trophy, awarded annually to the best professional prospect, in 2019-20.
To wrap up a career year, Alexis was named the CHL Player of the Year for the second-straight season after leading the QMJHL in assists (77) and points (112) last season. Lori-Jane often made the 5 ½-hour trip to Rimouski over the course of his three seasons there.
She traveled during Christmas time to Vancouver and Ostrava to watch Alexis lead Canada’s U20 team to a gold medal in the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship. She was right there as he buried four goals and dished six assists for 10 points, the fourth-most in the tournament — which earned him MVP honors and a spot on the media-voted, five-man All-Star team.
Considering Alexis has been away from home for most of his life in order to set himself up for the NHL, Lori-Jane rarely missed an opportunity to see him. In their mom’s eyes, each time the two were reunited after months apart their relationship grew stronger and stronger.
But when the 2019-20 season was suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, Alexis came home for several months.
“It really allowed them to spend quality time together,” his mom said in a translated email. “As parents, that was a true silver lining of this whole pandemic.”
Asked about his relationship with his sister, Alexis pointed to more than just sibling love. He talked of the immense gratitude and admiration he has for her, as well as his awareness of how vital she’s been to his hockey career.
“My sister is very important to me,” he said. “Her and I have a great relationship, and I know I can count on her for anything. She has made a lot of sacrifices to help me get where I am today. She often took a backseat so that my parents could help me in my career and follow me everywhere.
“She never complained about it once. I will never be able to thank her enough for that.”
Lori-Jane’s love for her brother has always been visible. And the day before Alexis was set to make his first trip to the Big Apple earlier this month, she put that love on display permanently, tattooing his new Rangers number, No. 13, on the inside of her left wrist.