At just 16, Dante Fabbro was one of the youngest players to pull on the Team West jersey at last year's World Jr. 'A' Challenge in Kindersley, Sask.
He found a way to contribute, posting three points to tie for the team scoring lead with Penticton Vees teammate Tyson Jost in the face of a last-place finish in the tournament.
Fabbro will look to build on that experience, as he's been invited to Team West's selection camp for this year's tournament.
"It's pretty cool, obviously, representing your country again. Last year, we didn't do too well so our focus this year is improving our team aspect of this year's team and hopefully, bring home some hardware," said the young hockey player who lists Whistler as his hometown. "My experience last year was pretty unique. I learned that things aren't just given to you. You've got to work.
"Last year, we may not have had the most skilled team there, but we had a hard-working team. In the end, we've got to keep working hard."
Though the tournament is one that lacks the limelight of the World Junior Hockey Championships, embraced heartily by Canadians over Christmas break, there still is a pedigree to it. Denmark's roster, for example, boasted Winnipeg Jets star rookie Nikolaj Ehlers and Columbus Blue Jackets top prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand while Russian goalie Ilya Samsonov was drafted by the Washington Capitals in the NHL Entry Draft's first round in June.
"There's different styles of hockey. There are European teams and the Americans. With the Europeans, they have a lot of regroups and criss-cross (plays)," Fabbro said. "The Americans play quite similar to us. You've got to be able to adjust your game there."
Should he receive the honour of representing Canada for a second consecutive year, Fabbro explained he'll look to take a page from Penticton's book when it comes to team-building, especially entering a tight tournament with little room for error. Camp opens this Saturday, Dec. 5 in Leduc, Alta. while the tournament is slated for Dec. 13 to 19 in Cobourg and Whitby, Ont.
"We've got to build team chemistry from Day 1 at camp. Obviously, it's going to be a fairly tough team to make and I'm preparing as much as I can to have a good camp there," he said. "The aim right now is playing well at the camp and trying to be a leader on the ice and off the ice, too."
Fabbro's full-time responsibilities find him patrolling the blue line for the British Columbia Hockey League's Penticton Vees, the top-ranked Jr. 'A' club in Canada. Fabbro very nearly helped Penticton to its second national final in three years at the RBC Cup in Portage la Prairie, Man. last spring, but Toronto-based Carleton Place knocked off the Vees in double-overtime in the semifinal.
Penticton is 26-2-0 this season and Fabbro, an alternate captain, is currently third on the team in scoring with 37 points (seven goals and 30 assists). He's also far and away the BCHL's leading scorer among defencemen.
"We've got a lot of great leaders in this locker room with Penticton and it's not just the guys who are wearing letters this year," he said. "Everybody's a leader on this team, which makes it a lot easier. I've learned from a lot of guys this year. I've learned from (captain) Tyson Jost. There's always something you can improve on and want to get better at."
The Vees are raring for another shot at the national championship, as they've put an absolute walloping on the rest of the league to this point, averaging well over four goals a game while giving up less than two. It helps when your top netminder is Anthony Brodeur, son of NHL legend Martin, while snipers like Jost, Fabbro and Scott Conway are averaging roughly two points an outing.
The Vees' attack is clearly a potent one, but Fabbro said the squad always looks to tighten up its defensive-zone play first and foremost. He takes the same tack, detailing how he embraces the challenges around his own net in addition to racking up glory on the scoresheet.
"I like to think I'm a two-way defenceman. I've been putting up some pretty good numbers lately because of the players I'm playing with, the team I'm surrounded with and the coaching staff letting me do my thing in the offensive zone," he said. "I like to defend, I like to strip guys for pucks and I like to battle down low, which is what I build my game off of everyday."
And as soon as next season, Fabbro could be moving from the West Coast to the east, as he has committed to joining the Boston University Terriers for the 2016-17 season. The Terriers are five-time NCAA champions, most recently in 2009, and had Buffalo Sabres phenom Jack Eichel on their squad last season.
"I felt very comfortable with the players that are there and the players that are coming in and the coaching staff," he said. "I felt comfortable talking to them and what they had to offer.
"And living in a city gives you that area to just get away if you want to. It's definitely a cool place and I'm definitely looking forward to it."
Though Fabbro's hometown is listed as Whistler on the Vees and Hockey Canada rosters, the resort has been more like a second home in his life, as his family maintains a cottage here. Even with his home base being Coquitlam, Fabbro explained his winters just up the Sea to Sky Highway influenced his athletic direction.
"Every winter, we'd go up to Whistler and go skiing, but there was always open ice down at the rink," he said. "I'd put on my skates and play hockey and I'd be out there from the minute it starts 'til the minute it ends. Going out there and just having fun was something that really sparked something for me to play hockey.
"I've tried other sports, but hockey was the one that felt most comfortable to me."