Minnesota Wild prospect Louis Belpedio already has one IIHF gold medal after leading Team USA to the 2014 U-18 World Championship, but he's on the hunt for a second.
Team USA is preparing to play Russia in the semifinals and the opportunity to play for a gold medal at the 2016 World Junior Championship in Helsinki, Finland. With a goal and an assist, the 5'10, 190 pound, offensively-talented defenseman is looking to contribute more on the scoreboard by simplifying his game.
"I've been playing well, but there are definitely things I could do better," Belpedio said. "I want to be simpler. The higher the level you play at the more being simple is necessary, especially as a defenseman.
"As much as I like to jump into the offense, I have to remember I'm a defenseman first and that's a part of my game I'll always work on,” he continued. “I don't think you can ever be too good."
Belpedio captained that gold medal team in 2014 and as one of the alternate captains in Helsinki, he knows that comes with a lot of responsibility.
"I want to lead by example and do all the little things right," said the 19-year-old. "That's really important in general, but especially for a guy that wears a letter. You should be doing the right things at the right time and I think that's something that goes a long way with the other guys in the room and earning their respect.”
The importance of doing all the little things right is something Belpedio learned during his time with the US National Team Development Program in Michigan, an experience he describes as invaluable.
"Being there helped me develop as a hockey player, but also a person as well," he continued. "It wasn't just about learning the details of the game, but how to take care of things away from the rink as well.”
Now, Belpedio is in his sophomore season at Miami University, where he has two goals and eight assists in 16 games, and is on pace to improve on his offensive numbers from last season. In terms of his development, he said he couldn't ask for a better situation.
"The coaching staff there is great and I have all the right resources and facilities and everything I need to get better," he said. "Playing time wise, I get put out there in every situation and I have no regrets going there. It was the best decision I could have made. I'm very happy there."
Belpedio, drafted in the third round of the 2014 NHL Draft, is known for his skating and his ability to get the puck up the ice and contribute offensively.
"I like being able to play a two-way game," he said. "As a forward you have a little more time to be creative with the puck and as a defenseman, you have to pick your spots, but if you take care of things defensively, you will have more opportunities to contribute to the offense.”
That's exactly what he'll be facing here in Helsinki these next two games as the USA is guaranteed to play for a medal on Tuesday, whether it's gold or bronze is to be determined. Regardless of the outcome, Belpedio will take home more than just hardware.
"This tournament is a good opportunity to see where I am as a player compared to where I want to be and that really helps a lot," he said. "Like I said, there's always something to improve on. You can never be too good. Having a better understanding of what you need to work on is a huge advantage to getting better."
For now, Belpedio's focus is squarely on Russia and the United States' semifinal matchup on Monday at 12 pm CT.
"There aren't too many things that won't be exciting about this game - two very fast and very skilled teams - and I'm looking forward to the challenge," he said.