Brandon Gormley is considered the dean of a Canadian junior hockey team defence devoid of any returnees this year.
The Moncton Wildcat star logs plenty of minutes for Canada and by extension, so does his 18-year-old defensive partner Dougie Hamilton.
In the host country's first game of the world junior championship against Finland, it seemed like Gormley and Hamilton were on the ice every second shift.
“You're a player, a competitor and you want to be out there in all key situations,” Gormley said. “I'm having fun with it right now.
“Obviously the coach has a lot of faith in you to put you out there in situations, so you have to take advantage of it.”
Gormley, one Canada's assistant captains, was released from the Canadian junior team at age 17 and would have certainly made the squad last year if not for a knee injury.
He's the only 19-year-old among Canada's top four defencemen this year. Scott Harrington of the London Knights and Ryan Murray of the Everett Silvertips, both 18, are another shutdown pairing for Canada.
The lack of experience among Hamilton, Harrington and Murray, however, makes Gormley's calming influence important, particularly early in the tournament.
“Dougie and Ryan and Scott have really stepped in and done a good job, but I think Gormley is really the glue back there that holds everybody together,” Canadian head coach Don Hay said. “He's got good composure.”
The last time Canada didn't have at least one defenceman return to play a second year was 2004. Erik Gudbranson was eligible to play for his country again, but the Florida Panthers kept Gudbranson in the NHL this season.
The Phoenix Coyotes picked Gormley 13th overall in the 2010 draft. The six-foot-two, 196-pound defenceman has some pro experience. Gormley had a goal in four games for the American Hockey League's San Antonio Rampage at the end of last season.
Hamilton is gaining confidence playing alongside Gormley, which is what Hay hoped would happen for the Niagara IceDog.
“With everyone being so good, I don't think you expect to maybe play more than other guys and stuff like that, but playing with him has been really fun,” Hamilton said. “He's smart and knows how to move the puck. He's calm with it and makes the right play pretty much all the time.
“I just kind of look up to him and follow him.”
Gormley is from Murray River, P.E.I., situated just upriver from Murray Harbour, which is the hometown of New York Rangers' star Brad Richards.
Gormley knows Richards well. His sister was once Gormley's babysitter. Gormley is also following in the steps of Richards — first to Notre Dame College in Wilcox, Sask., and now Canada's junior team.
“He's been a great role model for me,” Gormley said of Richards.
It wasn't easy for Gormley to move across the country at age 14 to the small prairie town and school famous for producing hockey players.
Along with Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Jordan Eberle, Tyler Myers, Rene Bourque, Keith Aulie and Braydon Coburn are among the NHL players who have come through Notre Dame.
“Brad and a couple other guys that I knew gave me some advice, 'Make good friends early.’ That was the key for me,” Gormley said.
Gormley played both hockey and football at Notre Dame with current Canadian junior team captain Jaden Schwartz. On the football field, Gormley played tight end and Schwartz was the quarterback.
“He reads the play here very well and he does the same on the football field,” Gormley said.
Gormley certainly caught Saskatchewan Roughriders fever during his two seasons at Notre Dame. It has stayed with him into his fourth season with the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Wildcats.
“Yeah, I'm a ‘Riders fan now,” Gormley says. “It's understood when you go there I think.”