OSTRAVA, Czech Republic -- Like many Canadian kids, Ty Dellandrea had a hockey rink in his backyard. Also, like many Canadian kids, he watched the World Junior Championship with his family on TV every year and dreamed of representing Team Canada at the annual tournament for the world's best junior players.
"During intermissions, they'd show a drill on TV and I'd go out there and practice it on the backyard rink. I won a whole bunch of gold medals out there," the 19-year-old said with a laugh. "Pretty sure there was at least one OT game-winner in there, too."
But unlike most Canadian kids, Dellandrea actually got to live out his dream when he wore the red and white maple leaf at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship in the Czech Republic and took home the gold medal on Sunday when his team came from behind in the third period to defeat Russia, 4-3.
"This is unbelievable," he said while looking down at the gold medal hanging from his neck. "You dream of this growing up and for it to happen in real life … it's just special. It's everything I thought it would be and so much more."
Dellandrea, who was selected 13th overall at the 2018 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars, finished the tournament with three goals and five points in seven games, averaging 15 minutes a game centering the third line for the Canadians.
"It's been my job to shut down the other team's top lines," he said. "It's a role that I like to play. It's not as flashy as getting all the goals and playing on the power play, but it's still an important role and I've been doing my best to be really good at it."
According to Rich Peverley, Stars player development coordinator, Dellandrea does a lot of little things very well and that's what makes him so effective on the ice, especially in a shutdown role.
"His shot, his hockey IQ, his ability to win faceoffs, his defensive reliability, his agility on his skates, his compete, his physical presence on the ice -- he's not afraid and won't back down and he agitates a little bit, too. Those are all things that make Ty a special player," Peverley said of the 6-foot-1, 190-pound centerman. "But he's going to be a guy that's the glue in the locker room.
"He's going to be that guy that just quietly does his job in the regular season and maybe flies under the radar for most fans and then really comes through in the clutch in the playoffs where everyone will recognize just how much he does to help the team win games that doesn't show up on the scoreboard," he continued. "His attitude, his commitment to his trade as a two-way player is one of the best I've ever dealt with, and I've played with (Zdeno) Chara and (Patrice) Bergeron (with the Boston Bruins) and he is on that path. That's quite a compliment, but he deserves it. He's pretty impressive in that way and that's what will help him have a long NHL career."
As far as his defensive game has improved these past two years, Peverley is also impressed with how Dellandrea's offensive game has grown due to improvements in other areas, particularly his strength.
"He's really blossomed with his creativity offensively. He's gotten more responsibility and there are also a few more skilled players around him in Flint this year and having guys who are more creative and can finish more will help make him a better offensive player long-term," he explained.
"With a lot of young players we tend to focus on improving their defensive game because the coaches need to be able to trust them, but we don't want it to come at the expense of their offensive skills. You still need to score to win games and Ty's been putting in the work on that end of the ice, too."
Dellandrea has been happy with his progress to become faster and stronger, but is well aware there's more work to do.
"I feel like I've stepped it up a bit in every way and made myself a better, more reliable two-way player," he said. "But, I still want to work on my skating. I don't care how fast you are, you always want to get faster and more powerful and more efficient. I also want to work on finishing a bit more. Here and at the NHL camp, it's a lot harder to score. The goalies are bigger and better, the defenseman are stronger. So when I get the chance to score, I want to be able to make it count.
"And, finally, I want to continue to work on my draws. I actually think it's a strong suit of mine, but I'm endlessly working on faceoffs and trying to be better at them," he concluded.
If Dellandrea can focus on his strength training and improving his straight away speed this summer, Peverley said, "He'll put himself in a good position to maybe play a full season next year in the National Hockey League, but definitely get in more than a few games. He's not far off."
For now, Dellandrea is focused on helping the Flint Firebirds of the OHL, where he's scored 17 goals and 37 points in 27 games and is captain of the team, make the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season.
While his resume lacks deep runs in the postseason, he's made up for it with international experience. He was on the Hlinka Gretzky Cup team that won gold in 2017 and represented Canada twice at the U18 World Championship in addition to this year's world juniors appearance.
"These games are so intense and you're playing at such a high level, it feels like the playoffs," he said. "So having the opportunity to get used to playing in these high-pressure situations will pay off when you're in a similar situation down the road and you're trying to win a big game or even championship. Knowing how to push through and give that little bit extra to come up with the win is important.
"There are a lot of great players here and I just want to learn as much as I can from them and take that back with me," he continued. "The coaches too. Being able to learn from Mark (Hunter) and Dale (Hunter) and the rest of the coaches was amazing. They're champions and they know how to win and they continue to do it. Being with them this past month has been so good for me and my development. I think it's made me a better player and even a better person."
The gold medal is the cherry on top.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.
Julie Robenhymer is a contributor to DallasStars.com. Follow her on Twitter @JulieRobenhymer.