Maybe Kenndal McArdle was destined to play for the Canadian junior hockey team.
There certainly were more heralded teenagers at the selection camp this month than the Vancouver Giants' forward. But coach Craig Hartsburg and his staff kept coming back to the speedy, determined, physical left winger with the blazing shot and infectious zest for the game.
When Canada faces host Sweden in the opener of the world junior tournament in Leksand, Sweden, Tuesday, McArdle, 19, may well be his team's 13th forward. But his spirit can't be broken. Especially at this time of the year.
McArdle's birthday is Jan. 4, the day before the gold-medal final at the world junior championship. When he was younger, the presents he unwrapped at this time of year were combined Christmas and birthday gifts from the entire family.
He was raised by his single mother, Leilani, in Burnaby, B.C. But hockey is not a sport for the financially challenged. So if there was a pair of skates or another piece of expensive equipment to be purchased, Leilani and her family chipped in.
"I've always felt loved around Christmas time," McArdle said. "It means a lot to me. I think I can appreciate what Christmas truly represents.
"I know for a lot of people Christmas means coming home. But I can't think of a better way than representing your country in Sweden and come Boxing Day, everyone will be tuned in watching us play."
There were others who helped McArdle along the way. Coaches waived registration fees. Teammates lent him equipment. Another parent helped out financially. The McArdles were grateful.
This is why McArdle is so driven to succeed. He has people from his past he wants to thank through his hockey.
"I don't know if I could put it on one thing, whether it's my mom or myself," McArdle said when asked what drives him. "I really think I have a strong competitive desire to be the best I can be.
"But there have been a bunch of people who have helped me along the way. My mom, coaches and friends. I carry on with the pride of what those people have meant to me and I want to succeed for them and that they can see that I'm accomplishing something. That is what drives me."
When Leilani looks at her son, she sees two people - her late grandfather and the man who fathered Kenndal. Leilani's grandfather was a cowboy, and when he had free time, he loved to play hockey in Calgary.
"Kenndal looks a lot like his grandfather," she said. "He loved hockey, just like Kenndal. I knew Kenndal liked hockey, but I didn't know how much until I won tickets to a [Vancouver]Canucks game in a draw and we went to GM Place."
Kenndal was born in Toronto and was 4 when his father decided to remarry. So Leilani and her son moved to Burnaby.
"I think Kenndal gets his competitive spirit from his father, even though they have so little contact," she said. "He played soccer in Trinidad. But he was academic.
"He didn't want him to get into the sports, and interfere with his academics, and feed into the black stereotype with sports. He didn't want Kenndal trapped in that. His dad wanted Kenndal to go to university and develop that area. He didn't want sports to interfere. But once he saw how far Kenndal had advanced in hockey, he's okay with that now."
That moment came at the 2005 National Hockey League draft in Ottawa. Kenndal invited his father, who was blown away when his son was drafted 20th overall by the Florida Panthers.
Much to the disappointment of his mother, a technical writer for the provincial government, her son, a 90 per cent student in high school, told her after the draft that he would forgo his plan to register for any postsecondary courses in order to give his full focus to a hockey career.
She was disappointed, but understood. She trusted her son.
"He's an exceptional kid, an absolute delight," she said. "He's never been a problem. He has such an enthusiasm for life."
The 80-hour work week for Leilani, if you include her job and driving Kenndal around for his hockey exploits, has been worth it.
"On one hand, the hockey provided a tremendous focus for him," Leilani said. "A lot of the problems that come with single parenting is knowing what to do with them and worrying about other influences. Then when you're a working parent, it's hard to manage what they are doing all the time. Hockey eliminated 90 per cent of all that.
"It actually provided a huge safety net."
Like other parents of Canadian junior players, Leilani won't be in Sweden to watch her son play because of "work and financial restraints." But she will be in Kenndal's thoughts.
"I will be talking to my mom, friends and family after the games on the phone," he said. "Unfortunately, my mom wasn't able to come, but I know she'll be glued to the television with the rest of the country.
"Every player here has people who helped them. My mom is the one in my life. She got up at 5:30 in the morning to drag me out of bed to make my practices. She had to do it on her own. I'm very grateful for it. Hopefully, one day I can give back to her and my family for all they have done. It would be nice to start with a gold medal."