Figure Skater Turned Hockey Player: Bienek's Signing Story

Natalie Dillon
Crookston Times

This is an extended version of the article that was published on December 21 and printed in the paper on December 22. 

After verbally committing earlier in the fall, Aleah Bienek signed her letter of intent to play hockey at Trine University in Indiana on Friday, December 17. 

Aleah, who has 11 points on the season with a team-leading 8 assists, is in love with all aspects of the game, which led to her dream of playing in college. 

“I've always loved the sport, from the practices to games, to training, the team atmosphere and especially watching other people play,” Aleah said. “This is my favorite sport because I love everything around and about the game of hockey.” 

Eight-year-old Aleah would have never imagined going to college to play hockey, though.  

Figure Skater Turned Hockey Player 

When Aleah first got on the ice, she didn’t have a stick in her hand; she was a figure skater.  

Laurie Awender had different plans for Aleah, however. After school, Awender talked to Aleah about trying hockey. 

“I started playing hockey in the fourth grade,” Aleah said. “Mrs. Awender was a big factor for me to try hockey. One night I went to one of the try-hockey nights, and from there on I knew I had to stick with the sport.” 

Aleah’s parents were supportive of the switch, getting her gear and driving her to practices. 

“We talked to some parents that had kids in hockey about finding some used equipment,” Jean Ann, Aleah’s mother, said. “It only took a few practices, and we knew she was going to change from figure skating to hockey.” 

Putting in the Work 

Once she started playing, Aleah hit the ground running, gaining more and more experience. In her entire hockey career, she’s played for Crookston Park and Rec, River City Hockey out of Moorhead and the Northern Storm out of Superior, Wisconsin. 

In that time, Aleah put in the extra hours to get to the level she is now. 

“Aleah has always worked hard and put in the extra work to achieve her goals,” Jean Ann said. “Whether it be school or sports, her dedication has been phenomenal to nurture. Through the years, coaches have always said how coachable she is, and what a team player she is.” 

Head coach Emily Meyer echoes this sentiment, as she has been coaching Aleah for the past three years. 

“Aleah has been one of the players that wants to grow as a player and as a person,” Meyer said. “She always asks questions on ways to improve and better herself and those around her. She has what it takes physically and will adjust to do whatever her coach needs her to do.” 

Making Dreams a Reality 

Once Aleah started playing for the Pirates, she knew she wanted to keep playing. It wasn’t until her sophomore year that she started to execute her plan. 

“It was always in the back of my mind that I wanted to play college hockey since 8th grade, my first year of being a part of the Girls Crookston Pirate Hockey program,” Aleah said. “I knew it was going to take a lot of dedication and hard work to get there, but that inspired me to do just that. It wasn't until my sophomore year I knew I had to make it a reality.” 

During her sophomore season, Aleah kicked it into another gear. She trained even harder on and off the ice, and she trained outside of regular practice times. She also began her recruitment process and turned to Meyer for advice. 

“Since the moment I started coaching, Aleah was telling me that she wanted to play college hockey,” Meyer said. “She asked tons of questions about what she should do to get there. I told her wanting it was the first step. Then she went from there. Workouts, camps, skills on her own, this kid put in the work.” 

Aside from the physical work, Aleah also expanded her network socially. She made a recruitment profile, talked to coaches, attended showcases and toured multiple schools.  

Jamestown, Lawrence University and Concordia Wisconsin were on her list of possible schools, but when she visited Trine, she knew it was the one. 

“Right when I stepped onto the campus, it felt like a home away from home,” Aleah said. “I knew it was the right fit for me to grow athletically and academically.” 

Bring the Thunder 

Aleah will attend Trine University in Angola, Indiana in the fall. She will major in Exercise Science with hopes of joining the university’s program for Doctor of Physical Therapy. 

Currently, the women’s hockey team is 4-9-1 overall with a 1-4-1 conference record. The Thunder went into Christmas break with a three-game winning streak, all against Marian University out of Wisconsin. 

The team has 10 seniors that will need to be replaced next season, shoes that Aleah and her fellow recruits hope to fill. 

Meyer is confident that, despite this feat, Aleah will be successful at the next level. 

“I can’t wait to see what more this kid can do, because when she puts her mind to something she will go far,” Meyer said. “So, chase those dreams Aleah, you have the Pirate Hockey community rooting for you and cheering you on!” 

Aleah Bienek signs to play with Trine University women's hockey.
Aleah Bienek signs her letter of intent while her parents, Jean Ann and Dacian, look on.
Aleah Bienek signs her letter of intent with assistant coach Stacy Olson and head coach Emily Meyer in support.
Aleah Bienek and her teammates celebrate a win.
Aleah Bienek lines up with her team.