Aidan Dudas averaged almost two points a game when he wore a North Central Predators jersey from 2014 to 2016.
Since then, Dudas has continued to blossom and has gone on to play on increasingly bigger stages.
The 19-year-old centre is the captain of the Owen Sound Attack in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), he was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings of the National Hockey League and, 10 days ago, the nation watched as he and his Team Canada teammates won a gold medal at the World Junior Hockey Championship (WJHC) in the Czech Republic.
“It was a dream come true. I can remember being young with my family watching the tournament and dreaming of playing for Team Canada and winning gold,” Dudas told OrilliaMatters.
“When I got that gold medal around my neck, it finally came true.”
Dudas played a pivotal role for Team Canada’s penalty-killing unit in the WJHC, he recorded two assists and averaged over 15 minutes of ice time per game during the tournament.
Team Canada’s coaching staff trusted Dudas so much that he was on the ice during the final minutes of the gold-medal game against Russia, and that’s when Dudas saw his gold medal dreams flash before his eyes.
With just under two minutes left in the tense game and Canada leading the Russians 4-3, Dudas tried to clear the puck while killing a penalty. The puck sailed over the glass and hit a television camera sitting a few inches behind the glass.
“I thought for sure it was a penalty. I was freaking out, I was nervous, I was scared,” Dudas said of his emotions at that pivotal moment on the world's biggest hockey stage.
“I remember screaming at the ref trying to say it hit off their (the Russian's) stick and was deflected out of play so it wouldn’t be a penalty.”
A delay of game penalty would have put Russia on a five-on-three powerplay. Luckily for Dudas and Team Canada, the officials decided not to penalize him and Canada held onto their lead to capture their tournament-leading 18th gold medal.
Winning the gold for Dudas was rewarding as he has poured his heart and soul into his hockey dreams since he was a young boy playing in Parry Sound.
He has always worked with the mindset of trying to get better every day and that mentality put him in a position to take the game more seriously and move to the next level.
“When I was younger playing Parry Sound hockey, I never thought of going further, I was just playing with my buddies for fun and my family," said Dudas.
"Then, I realized that I was kind of better than everyone in Parry Sound Hockey and I needed to challenge myself some more and go to a higher level.”
Dudas decided he wanted to play AAA hockey. The closest program to Parry Sound was the North Central Predators who play out of Rama - that meant a 75-minute drive for his weekly games and two weekly practices.
His biggest obstacle, when he arrived in Rama, was those who questioned his ability to play at a high level because of his size. Standing at 'just' 5’8”, some thought his size would be a disadvantage in the physical sport of hockey.
That criticism has gone in one ear and out the other for Dudas as he continues to prove himself at every level he has played at.
“I don’t really listen to the outside people who say I can or can’t do anything. I just focus on what I can do to get better and be successful at the next level,” Dudas said.
The talented and speedy forward overcame any questions about his ability to play with the big kids with his work ethic and his ability to put the puck in the net.
Dudas remains thankful for his opportunity to play with the Predators and the people within the organization who helped get him to the next level.
“It’s a great organization," Dudas says of the Predators. "I give credit to Andrew Morris, Andrew Hawke, and John Kerr who are three guys who didn’t have any relations to the kids on the team. They were just there putting in their own time to help us and I think those three were really good coaches and taught me how to play the right way and put me on the right path to get better.”
After winning gold with Team Canada, Dudas had text messages from all of his former coaches and most of his ex-teammates from those Predators teams.
“It was cool, especially to hear from buddies I haven’t heard from in a while," said Dudas. "It was great to hear back from them and know that they are still watching and keeping tabs on me.
"I still keep in touch with those coaches regularly, once a month or so. They are great guys and always encouraging me and it’s nice to have that support,” Dudas said.
Dudas’ North Cental Predators coaches and teammates who watched and helped him grow and get to the next level of his career get the privilege of watching the young forward carve out a career in the sport.
The best may be yet to come.
Dudas has played six games with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League (AHL) this year and on Christmas Day, Dudas signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Los Angeles Kings, which is where he hopes to be playing sometime soon.