Aryan Patnaik's mornings start a tad different than most 10-year-olds.
Just ask his father, Amit, who's grown accustomed to waking up with Aryan at 4:30 a.m. - hours before the sun rises over the city of Nashville - to start their day.
"He really just wants to do anything he can to improve his hockey," Amit said of his son.
Fittingly, Aryan never plans on skipping a step.
For that reason, by 5:30 a.m., Aryan and Amit arrive at Ford Ice Center Antioch; as per usual, they're early for the 6 a.m. open-ice stick time.
The 30-minute time frame serves as the perfect buffer for Aryan to get ready: he laces up his skates, suits up in his gear and works to improve his game until the morning skate ends an hour later, when most of the other alarm clocks are just going off.
"He's determined. All last spring, I noticed him at 6 a.m. Stick Time sessions running himself through drills," Bo Armstrong, head coach of the Preds Select 10U team said. "I didn't know who he was at the time, but the work he was putting in was inspiring. Talk about being self-motivated."
Then, after the eventful morning, Aryan attends school for the day.
His hard work and dedication has set him apart from the pack, as Aryan is the first young Nashvillian to complete all of the Predators grassroots programs - Learn to Skate, G.O.A.L!, Little Preds, PREDecessor and Youth League - and make the Preds Select 10U Travel Team.
"I'm absolutely very, very pleased with the way the Predators' youth program is run," Amit said. "I grew up in India, so I didn't know anything about hockey. I assumed Aryan was late to the game since he wasn't interested until he was 8 years old, but the way the Preds run it, a kid who doesn't know anything about the sport can play hockey, just as a kid who's an expert can play hockey. All they want to do is provide a platform for these kids to fulfil their lifelong dreams."
In a family that never played hockey, let alone watch it, Aryan's love for the sport didn't develop until there was a Predators event at his elementary school. At the event, they handed out various Predators accessories, which prompted then-8-year-old Aryan to ask his parents if they could go see the Predators live at Bridgestone Arena.
"That evening, all he spoke about was hockey, which was very surprising to me because he didn't know much about it the day before," Amit recalled. "So I bought tickets to a game and told Aryan, and his eyes lit up with excitement like I've never seen before."
At Aryan's first game, the Predators beat the Dallas Stars in a regular-season matchup, thus catalyzing his love for the game.
But as much as Aryan loved watching his hometown team, he wanted more.
"He cherished the moment. The Predators are the sole reason why he wants to play hockey," his father said. "In fact, when he gets older, he dreams of being a Nashville Predator himself."
But Amit hardly knew how to go about signing his son up for youth hockey. Luckily, the Predators youth program provided a perfect platform for him to learn all angles of the game.
Aryan excelled in the program: within a year, he was a proficient skater. Fast forward another three months and a bystander would hardly be able to tell that Aryan was new to the sport.
Despite a relative lack of playing experience, he kept up with the others; physically, Aryan had the same skating ability as the children who had started five years prior. His skills were also steadily improving, thanks in part to the PREDecessor program, which allows young boys and girls to harness their skills before entering the youth leagues.
The centerman - who picked his position to match his favorite Preds player, Ryan Johansen - put his skills to the test in just a year and some change after he first learned to skate.
But in order to make the Preds Select 10U team, Aryan was tasked with competing against some of the best youth hockey talent in Nashville.
"So tryouts come in June, and boom, there he was, proving he belonged out there," Armstrong said. "He took advantage of every opportunity available to him - with and without coaches - and it paid off. I'm happy for him and am eager to help him continue to develop."
Aryan shined in the tryouts, scoring a handful of goals to solidify his spot on the 10U Preds Select travel team. But there's one goal, one play and one moment that Aryan credits as the main reason he made the team.
After securing the puck behind his own goalie's net, Aryan started out and continued to skate down the ice going coast to coast. Within seconds, Aryan had deked and skated past the entire opposing defense before launching a wrist shot from a difficult angle.
And it found the back of the net.
"It blew me away," Amit said. "He just took on the whole team by himself. And these were kids that learned how to skate and play hockey many years ago, but he only learned just over a year ago. He thinks that goal is the reason why he made the team."
Given his work ethic, it's rather unsurprising that Aryan is the first youth player to progress through all the Predators grassroots youth programs and make the Preds Select team. And for everything he's already accomplished to this point, he's just getting started.
"You know the best part of Aryan falling in love with hockey? Let me put it like this," Amit chuckles. "If he wants to eat ice cream late at night but we don't want him eating it, we will just ask him: 'is hockey important or is ice cream important?' And he will immediately put the ice cream down."
Surely, Aryan's love for the game will pave the way for other Nashville youth to do the same.