Red Deer Rebels' Mathew Dumba captains Canada at Under 18 World Championship. He laced on his first pair of skates at age three when he stepped onto a homemade rink in his Regina backyard.
Now Mathew Dumba is captaining Canada's under-18 team at the world championship and his offensive skills and puck sense have made him one of the top North American picks in the 2012 NHL entry draft.
The six-foot, 183-pound defenceman had a goal and an assist as Canada pounded lightly regarded Denmark 6-1 to open preliminary play Thursday.
Heady times for a 17-year-old but he seems to handle the pressure like an old pro.
His says his dad Charles got him started in hockey.
"He's definitely a fan of the game. He played up until the junior (level) and then packed it in,'' Dumba said by phone from the Czech Republic, where Canada plays Finland on Saturday in their second game of the world championship. He reffed at the WHL when he was younger and he just loves the game. He was probably my biggest influence.''
When he was about eight, Dumba's family moved to Calgary and that's where he was spotted and drafted at the bantam level by the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. He was their first round pick and 4th overall in the 2009 WHL Bantam Draft.
The Rebels were riding comparatively high when he joined the team. They made it to the conference quarter-final in 2009-10 and the semifinal in 2010-11, after finishing first in the Central Division that season.
"My first season I kind of had it made with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins there and some other skilled players like Byron Froese, Andrej Kudrna and guys who could really put the puck in the net. I don't think we had a losing streak over three games.''
Nugent-Hopkins was nabbed by the Edmonton Oilers as the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 2011 NHL entry draft.
This injury-plagued season has been anything but golden for the Rebels, who Dumba notes went 13 games without winning at one point and missed the playoffs.
"We kind of had to climb our way out of that and going through that I know I'm better for it,'' said Dumba.
"This year was kind of a year where you're learning a lot and learning a lot about yourself, dealing with all the different pressures, from the draft, from making your own personal accomplishments like the world juniors and events like the prospects game. There was a lot of things going on at once and controlling all those things was a big task for me."
The pressure hasn't let up at the under-18 world championship. There are a lot of scouts and general managers watching his performance on the ice but Dumba says he's not going to think about that right now.
"You're not really thinking about that stuff. You're thinking about the team and accomplishing our mission of winning the gold. When Team Canada goes into tournaments we're always striving to get gold and be our best."
Dumba has already helped accomplish that for Canada at another event. He captained Canada to a gold medal at the 2011 Memorial of Ivan Hlinka tournament in August.
When asked who in the NHL right now is the kind of player he'd like to become, Dumba is quick to name Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings.
"I think a lot of young defencemen like myself look up to him, and think he's a great player, all the stuff he accomplished in such a short time,'' he said.
"He's so efficient on the ice, he wins all his battles, he's got a great skill level, I think he's a pretty good guy to look up to.''
Canada hasn't won gold at the world under-18 championship since 2008, the last year it won a medal of any kind. The team is coached by Jesse Wallin, Dumba's regular coach with the Rebels.
Wallin likes the mix on this squad.
"I think we're a nuts and bolts team,'' he said. "We've got some good size up front. And, really, we've got some good skating defencemen in the backend, kids like Dumba and (Josh) Morrissey, those guys can really move their feet and are very mobile.''
The U.S. team has won gold the last three years straight and Dumba knows some might think Canada's odds are a bit long, with a team that gets assembled late from those who don't make their respective league playoffs.
"At this tournament I know we might not be the favourite by any means but we're definitely a contender and we think in our own minds we want to go out there and know that (if) we're working hard and doing all the little things right, we have a chance to win.''