CALGARY, AB -- Josh Jooris' fanbase has grown quite a bit over the last year.
Originally slated to get into one pre-season game last fall, the 24-year-old's superb performance in training camp forced the Flames' hand and he managed to hang in until the last round of cuts before the 2014-15 campaign kicked off.
He ended up playing just two games in the AHL before being summoned by the Flames and immediately endeared himself to fans with his hard-working, leave-everything-on-the-ice style of play.
Now, with 44 NHL games under his belt, he has become a fan favourite in Calgary. Jooris jerseys are common place at the Scotiabank Saddledome.
Add in family, friends, and the fans he picked up during his time with the Abbotsford Heat, Union College, and Burlington Cougars, the forward has quite the following.
But no one holds a candle to his younger sister, Alexa.
"She has always been my number one fan," he smiled.
Not only has Alexa offered unconditional, unwavering support for Josh throughout his hockey career, she is also a source of inspiration for her older brother.
Alexa has autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects 1 in 94 children in Canada*.
As per Autism Speaks Canada, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism are characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors.
"I think she’s a blessing," Jooris told CalgaryFlames.com. "She’s the happiest kid going, always got a smile on her face and brings you down to Earth. She teaches you not to take life fore granted.
"She’s taught me a lot. She’s the light in our lives. She’s awesome."
Alexa grew up around hockey her entire life, keeping close tabs on her brother and her dad. When she wasn't watching Josh, the siblings hunkered down together to catch their dad's games and practices.
"She was hanging around, waiting on me," Josh said. "She was always one of the last ones at the rink, hanging out.
"And she and I would watch my dad play. She’s always been a part of it."
For all hockey families, road trips and traveling becomes part of everyday life and the Jooris' have logged plenty of miles over the course of Josh's playing career.
The family caught a bit of a break during Josh's days in the Ontario Junior Hockey League, as he played for his hometown Burlington Cougars, but during his collegiate career, Alexa and her mom JoAnn would make the long drive out to Schenectady, New York to catch his games with the Union Dutchmen.
"My mom and her made a lot of road trips out to Union and she would always look forward to them."
After Josh signed on with the Flames on July 30, 2013, the road trips turned into journeys out west.
Josh spent the 2013-14 season with the Abbotsford Heat and other than a handful of games with the Adirondack Flames in Glens Falls, NY this fall, the forward has spent the bulk of this season in the NHL.
No matter the distance, Alexa has no qualms about hitting the road to watch her older brother play.
"She loves it," he grinned. "She comes to games, she cheers me on. It’s great."
With the Flames in the midst of their longest road trip of the year -- seven games over a two week span in the East -- the Jooris family will likely catch a few games.
Josh is looking forward to getting in a bit of family time and catching up Alexa.
"It's always great to see her. I can't wait."
*Statistic from Autism Ontario.