When Liam Foudy was cut during Team Canada's national junior team selection camp last year, he was grateful to have another year of eligibility and used it as motivation to be better and hopefully make the team this year for the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Not only did Foudy make the team, he was named one of the three best players for Canada and went home with a gold medal as his home country came from behind to beat Russia by a 4-3 score in the championship game Sunday in the Czech Republic.
"It's been sitting in the back of my mind that I was this close to making my dream come true (last year), and I wasn't going to let that happen again," said the 19-year-old, who was selected 18th overall in the 2018 NHL Draft by Columbus. "I used it as motivation to really push myself this year and, because I was at camp last year, I fortunately had the advantage of knowing how hard it was going to be and how hard I needed to play in order to make the team."
It also helped that Dale Hunter -- head coach for Foudy's junior team, the London Knights of the OHL -- was head coach for Canada and was well aware how the Knights' captain could help the team during the popular two-week tournament.
"I've been coaching him for years, and I know what his strengths and weaknesses are and I know how he can play and can help us in certain situations," Hunter explained. "He's a speed guy. He might be the fastest guy on the team.
"His first three steps are outstanding and he puts the D on their heels because they're always worried he's going to blow by them. That hesitation opens up opportunities for him offensively and he usually takes advantage."
You might say being fast is in Foudy's genes. His mother, France, was a sprinter who anchored the 4x100-meter relay and earned a silver medal for Canada at the 1984 Olympics. His father, Sean, is a former track star-turned-football player with the Ottawa Rough Riders of the CFL.
But being fast isn't the only thing Foudy has going for him.
"My best asset is my speed. That's pretty well known at this point," he said with a confident smile. "I've always been fast, but I'd also say I'm very patient. I don't panic when I get the puck. I take my time and look for the best option. That's probably my next strength -- passing and having good vision. Being able to find guys that are open and put it right on their tape."
Foudy notched three goals and added an assist in Canada's seven games at the World Juniors while averaging 15 minutes a game and was used in all situations. His ability to make plays with the puck against the best players his age in the world turned heads among many in the scouting community.
"He really helps drive the play and is a threat any time he's coming down the wing because of his speed, especially on the big ice here," Hunter said. "He has a willingness to go through the neutral zone, which is remarkable because when you're going that fast it hurts a lot more when you get hit. He just has no fear. He can make plays and has patience with the puck too and he can also play a checking role and kill penalties too. He's a very versatile player."
Foudy was happy to contribute to the team in anyway he was needed.
"Every Canadian kid grows up watching this tournament and dreams of being on this team and winning a gold medal," said the 6-foot-1, 180-pound forward. "I worked really hard this past year to have this opportunity and make an impact on this team and contribute in big games.
"These are high pressure games in a big arena with a lot of fans -- some rooting for you and some rooting against you. So being able to contribute in games like this and have this experience is huge and something I can take with me for the rest of my hockey career."
Foudy also thinks he will benefit from the sharing of ideas and the internal competition that inevitably happens when elite players spend a month together on and off the ice.
"In the room, we're all talking about different things like working on faceoffs and different techniques guys use," he explained. "We're the best players in our age and we share a lot of information. Even just being on the ice together makes you work harder and push yourself a little more because we're all so competitive and want to be at our best to help the team win."
As Foudy heads back to London and prepares for his first professional season in the CBJ organization next year, he will be focused on getting stronger and perfecting his shot.
"I've always been a weaker guy," he stated almost apologetically. "It's something I've been trying to work on. Just growing and putting more muscle on so I can really battle down low.
"I also want to work on my shot," he continued. "It's never really been the best, but I feel like that will come with time and getting stronger and I think if I can do those two things, I'll be a better player one day."
Strange to hear a player with 36 goals and 68 points in 62 games, plus another six goals and 12 points in 11 playoff games, last year as well as 13 goals and 26 points in 20 games this year wants a better shot, but Hunter explains it's a challenging side effect of his speed.
"For guys who are as fast as he is, sometimes the hands and the brain take awhile to catch up," he said. "His hands have caught up to his legs at this level of the game and he's gotten stronger and more confident, but that will be his learning curve as he moves up to the pros and gets stronger and even faster, if that's possible.
"He'll score a lot of goals in the National Hockey League, but that will take time just getting the hands to work as fast as his legs do, especially at that level. Might not happen right away, but it will happen. I have no doubt."
For now, Foudy is soaking up this gold medal moment for all it's worth.
"I grew up dreaming of playing in this game -- a winner-takes-all, gold medal matchup -- and it's even better than I thought it would be," he said. "It's amazing. I can't really describe it right now. It's everything. The celebration on the ice was everything. I can't really explain it. It's just incredible."