Mike Paliolotta is one of the top 22 hockey players in the country. Proof of that is the Westport native playing for the U-17 National team Olympic Developmental program that won the World Championships last month in Timmins, Ontario against Canada.

"It's definitely a good feeling and experience and I'm happy to play on the team," Paliolotta said. "It was really cool [winning World Championships]."

Becoming the player he is today didn't happen overnight and took a lot of sacrifices by many different people. He especially credits his parents for driving him to different tournaments and to practices, which sometimes didn't take place during conventional hours.

Before joining the U-17 team, he played two years for Choate Academy, a residential prep school in Wallingford, which is the very competitive Founders League. In fact, he chose Choate because of its hockey program. He may miss Choate but is doing well on and off the ice for the U-17 team while staying with a host family in Ann Harbor, Mich., and attending the Pioneer School.

"It's tough being away from home, but I like the family I'm staying with and it's a lot of fun," Paliolotta said.

The 6-4, 190-Paliolotta is a defenseman won't be confused with Hockey Hall of Famer Bobby Orr, who liked to score. That's because he mostly focuses on stopping opposing forwards than scoring goals, and this enhances his game because his defensive prowess keeps relentless forwards away from his goalie.

"Our coaches do a great job working with us and I've become a better player in months I was here," Paliolotta said. "It [not scoring goals] doesn't really bother me and it's never been a big part of my game. It's not necessarily my job to score."

Through 30 games, he has three goals and 15 assists for 18 points, making him the second highest scoring defenseman on the team. He garnered many assists through his 85-90 miles per hour slapshot, which led to many goals by his teammates

"It came from a lot of practice," Paliotta said. "We work out all year, which helped."

His ability to locate his teammates enables him to earn the assists he has accumulated.

"I just see the ice well, which makes it easy for me to make plays," Paliolotta said.

Being physically strong, fast and agile also helps his game. He increased his strength while working out the past four summers under the tutelage of Jay Mountain at Fitness And Sports Training (FAST) in Westport.

"Jay has had a big impact on me as a player," Paliolotta said. "It's always good to come back and work out with him."

Life on the ice began for him at age 5. Attending Fairfield Country Day School (FCDS), which has a rink, led to his start in hockey. He attended FCDS until graduating from there in eighth grade and went from there to Choate.

Similar to New York Rangers center Chris Drury, he played baseball while growing up and experienced success in it as well. He was the second baseman for the 9-10 year old Westport National League All-Star team that won the State title and was one game away from going to Williamsport for the Little League World Series while playing for the Westport National League 11-12 year old All-Star team in 2005. He gave up baseball before ninth grade to focus on hockey.

"It was tough giving up baseball because I like it a lot but I knew it was best for me to focus on hockey," Paliolotta recalled.

His goal is to follow in Drury's footsteps.

"I definitely want to play in the NHL someday, it's a dream of mine and a goal," Paliolotta said. "Playing in the Olympics will be cool too."

In order to achieve these goals, it will take more work and sacrifice on his part.

"I have to keep getting better and stronger and work hard," Paliotta said.