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Chiefs’ Aviani continues to grow

The Spokane Chiefs could see Mike Aviani growing as a hockey player during last year’s Western Hockey League playoffs.

Aviani’s family can top that.

“I was pretty much on skates right away,” said the Chiefs’ 19-year-old center from Surrey, B.C. “The moment I could walk, they threw me on skates. … My dad always said that I had a hockey stick in my hand as I was sucking on my bottle.”

Hockey was in Aviani’s DNA. His father, Emilio, loved the game. His brothers, Jason, 23, and Chris, 22, played midget hockey. Mike would attend their games and dream of emulating them.

But Mike was different from his brothers in the passion he brought to the game. His willingness to play every day made him the Aviani with the most potential.

His abilities grew during his time with a good bantam team in North Vancouver. During Aviani’s second season with the team, the Chiefs selected him in the fifth round of the WHL Bantam Draft. His admiration for his new team grew when the Chiefs capped that season by winning the 2008 Memorial Cup.

Aviani made his Chiefs debut in 2009-10, as a 16-year-old, playing nine games and scoring his first WHL goal.

He has improved in stages, jumping from seven goals and five assists in 56 games during the 2010-11 season to 13 goals and 32 assists last year.

Even those numbers didn’t prepare the Chiefs for Aviani’s coming-out party during last year’s playoffs. Aviani led Spokane in postseason scoring with three goals and 13 assists in 13 games.

“We had a good run as a team and I had some personal success,” Aviani said. “I just tried to play my best and let the chips fall where they did.”

Aviani, one of three assistant captains for the Chiefs, has continued to grow during the first one-third of this WHL season. He has 10 goals and 13 assists through 22 games, tying him for 29th in the WHL with 23 points.

“The team wanted me to become a leader and take on a bigger role during the power play,” Aviani said.

The Chiefs play five more home games before Christmas, when Aviani and his fellow teammates will have a week off to visit their families. The Avianis attend a few games in Spokane, but they can also see their son play in Vancouver, Victoria and Everett.

Aviani’s mother, Kathy, is Canadian, but Emilio is Croatian and moved to Canada with his grandparents when he was young. He and Kathy met while playing softball.

After three sons, the Avianis greeted daughter Danielle, who is now 17 and a top-notch field hockey player.

Aviani, who turns 20 in April, split his education between Ferris High and North Surrey Secondary. He said he’d like to pursue college if he doesn’t make it to professional hockey.

The rest of this season is a matter of trying to move up the ladder in the Western Conference. The Chiefs are No. 4 in points heading into tonight’s home game with Everett.

“(We want to) learn something from each game,” Aviani said. “Just get better and work closer as a group so that by the time the playoffs hit, we’re just raring to go.”