Mike Paliotta blazes a new trail on the ice for Westporters.

Westport hasn't been renowned for producing hockey players -- until Paliotta came along and played at a much higher level than other previous townsfolk. His accomplishments reached the top Saturday when the Chicago Blackhawks drafted him in the third round, 70th overall.

"I'm very excited because they are a good organization and I'm happy they picked me," Paliotta said.

This spring, Paliotta helped the USA U-18 team win the gold medal at the World championships.

"It was really special because I played with them for two years," Paliotta said. "It was our goal and cool to achieve it."

The 6-3, 200-pound Paliotta had three assists for USA and helped the team strike gold with his play on the blue line. He is a defensive defenseman whose focus is to stop opposing forwards.

As a defenseman, Paliotta doles out many hard checks.

"I have to be physical and tough," Paliotta said. "I try to be a reliable defenseman. I always liked playing defense since I was younger. My coach put me on defense when I was younger and I stuck with it."

Although Paliotta is important to his team's success, he plays a position that normally doesn't generate headlines because he doesn't score many goals. Nevertheless, this suits him perfectly.

"You usually see guys who score get all the glory but it doesn't bother me," Paliotta said. "I just know what my job is during the game and I do it."

Being physically tough helped Paliotta stonewall opponents.

"Practice and its part of the game," Paliotta said. "If you want to be a tough defenseman, you have to develop this strength and I guess it came naturally to me."

Usually, he delivers checks at the blue line and is effective in doing so. Paliotta helped turn the tide many times with his checks.

"It's important for my team to get the puck and I'll do whatever it takes," Paliotta said. "I guess it's a good feeling as a defenseman to do it [checking an opponent] and it helps the team out."

Life on the ice began for Paliotta at age 5 when he skated in Darien Youth Hockey and Mid-Fairfield Hockey All-Stars. He honed his hockey skills and love for the sport at Fairfield Country Day School.

Once he started to play, he was successful. Paliotta woke up at 4 a.m. frequently during his formative years because the youngest players had early ice time.

"I guess I fell in love with hockey when I started to play," Paliotta said. "A lot of the success came from the sacrifices my parents made by driving me to the rink [early in the morning before dawn]."

From the time Paliotta began to play, everyone knew he was a special player. Playing in the local high school scene didn't make sense because he was already beyond that level and it would only hold him back. He played for two years at Choate, a residential school in Wallingford, before going to Ann Harbor, Mich. his junior year to play on the U-18 USA team.

Being away from home and his Westport friends, some of them whom he played Little League with many years ago -- and won a state title in 2003, wasn't a problem for Paliotta.

"Going to Michigan wasn't that big of a deal because I went to boarding school for two years and my parents came to visit me," Paliotta said. "I still stay in touch with my friends and it was worth it."

Next year, he will be closer to his family. Although the Blackhawks drafted Paliotta, he will attend the University of Vermont on a full hockey scholarship while majoring in business. Chicago holds his rights for the next four years.

"I want to get a degree because I won't play hockey my entire life," Paliotta said. "I like the school [Vermont] and area and it's close to home. I like the coaching staff and it's a perfect fit for me."

Before choosing Vermont, Paliotta also considered the University of Michigan. Once his playing days are over, he's considering a career in banking or sales among other business-related fields.

Paliotta is a positive role model and has a positive influence on many youngsters, especially his younger siblings.

"He's the one who first got me into it," said Danny Paliotta, who played at the Berkshire School last year and will be a sophomore at Greens Farms Academy this fall. "I watch his games and love the sport. He brought hockey into the family."

Kate Paliotta will be a seventh grader at GFA and plays for the Mid-Fairfield Stars.

"Mike helped me a lot and worked with me in the driveway," she said. "I saw his [hockey] equipment in the driveway and it made me interested in the sport."

Will Paliotta is 8 years old and plays for the Mites. He will enter third grade at Fairfield Country Day.

"He taught me a lot," Will said. "He plays with me on weekends and always gives me advice."

The eldest Paliotta knows he'll have to raise his game to the next level in order to excel at Vermont -- and ultimately -- for the Blackhawks. A lot of it is building his strength and FAST Fitness in Westport, has and will continue to help him in this endeavor. Staying in contact with the Blackhawks also helps and he will leave for their rookie camp next Wednesday.

"I have to continue to work hard, get stronger and work on the little things," Paliotta said. "I'll listen to what the Blackhawks tell me to do. Vermont has a good coaching staff and I hope they'll get me ready for it."