On Dec. 15, 2017, Vancouver Canucks goalie prospect Michael Dipietro was faced with the biggest test of adversity he’d ever experienced during his young hockey career.
It was the day of final cuts for Team Canada’s World Junior team and Michael Dipietro was battling with fellow netminder Colton Point to be the understudy for Carter Hart.
For hockey-crazed Canadians, the World Juniors are synonymous with the holiday season. It’s almost a write of passage for Canada’s young hockey fans to watch the World Juniors and uncover the next wave of hockey’s royalty. Dipietro wanted to be there. He wanted to be a part of Canada’s under-20 team and add a gold medal to his ever-growing resume of hockey accomplishments
That’s why when Dipietro was told by Team Canada’s coaching staff, led by Dominique Ducharme and assisted by Dipietro’s head coach with the Windsor Spitfires, Trevor Letowski, that he had been cut, he was devastated.
“It was definitely a tough pill to swallow,” Dipietro told CanucksArmy.
Letkowski took Dipietro outside to chat after the meeting. Dipietro was visibly emotional. He was just told that he wasn’t good enough to be on a roster that showcases Canada’s top young players, and that stung. To this day, Letowski says that conversation was one of the hardest things he’s ever been through as a coach
Still, even in that moment of heartbreak for Dipietro, he had words of encouragement for Letowski as he choked back tears.
“I remember he told me, ‘go get the gold, coach,'” Letowski said.
That is who Michael Dipietro is as a person.
Yet, it wasn’t his selfless traits that had many across the OHL and the entire CHL wondering how Dipietro was left off Canada’s World Junior team last year. Rather, it was what the 18-year-old netminder had accomplished thus far in his Junior career, at such a young age, that had many puzzled at his exclusion from the roster.
Michael Dipietro had some serious street credibility amongst the Canadian Major Junior Hockey.
You see, DiPietro was coming off a historical season that saw him win the Memorial Cup for his hometown Spitfires. Dipietro recorded an impressive .932 SV% and 2.00 GAA throughout the four-game tournament and was the x-factor in the Spitfires winning Junior hockeys biggest prize.
“He could’ve been the MVP of every game,” Toronto Marlies forward Jeremy Bracco, a teammate of Dipietro’s with the Spitfires during the 2016-2017 season, told CanucksArmy. “He made some big saves to help us win that and if you look at each game, he [had] two or three game-changing saves.”
What makes Dipietro’s Memorial cup performance even more impressive is the fact that he did it as a draft-eligible 17-year-old.
Mind you, in the past decade, there have been several draft-eligible goalies that hoisted the Memorial Cup. Yet Dipietro is the only ones of those 17 or 18-year-old goalies to win the Memorial Cup for the host team, which speaks to the level of trust Windsor had in him. Typically, host teams for the CHL’s prestigious round-robin tournament usually load up on as much insurance as they can, in hopes of playing the role of underdog in front of the home crowd.
There indeed was plenty of chatter–internally and externally–about whether the Spitfires would acquire a veteran goaltender before the OHL trade deadline.
Dipietro knew that, and used it as fuel to his motivation.
“I just added more pressure on myself to kind of perform and not really give Warren a reason to bring in an older goalie,” Dipietro said. “I was pretty confident in my abilities and what I brought to the table and what I could do.”
His teammates were just as confident in his abilities as Dipietro was in his own.
“I think [GM Warren Rychel] made the right call,” Aaron Luchuk, who scored the game winner in the Memorial Cup final, told CanucksArmy. “He stuck it out with Mikey, and Mikey proved him right.”
After his Memorial Cup performance, Dipietro’s agent, Darren Ferris of Definitive Hockey Group, says 12-13 teams were seriously interested in his client.
“It speaks to how good he is,” Ferris said. “He’s a special talent.”
The Canucks ended up snagging Dipietro in the third round, 64th overall, in the 2017 NHL entry draft.
Memorial Cup? Check.
NHL draft pick? Check
Next on the pecking order was cracking Team Canada’s World Junior squad. Dipietro had proven that he can handle the pressure of big-time games, and above all, that he was one of the best goalies in all of the CHL.
So when Dipietro was cut, he wasn’t content with the notion that he wasn’t good enough to play in a tournament that featured the best of the best young hockey players. He thought he deserved to be there. In lieu of that, he channelled his disappointment into motivation.
“He doesn’t sulk. He faces adversity head on,” Ferris said. “In a lot of cases, I tell guys, adversity makes you bitter, or better. In Mikes case, it made him better.”
But as Dipietro aimed to prove Team Canada wrong, he had a tall task ahead of him.
The Spitfires that he was returning to after the Christmas break was a shell of the team that had won it all months prior. The team was in a midst of a rebuild that saw them trade away Gabriel Vilardi, Logan Brown, Aaron Luchuk and Sean Day for a plethora of young prospects and draft picks. Plus, Mikhail Sergachev Jeremy Bracco and Jeremiah Addison, among others, had graduated on to the pros.
While Dipietro is a determined individual by nature, he says it reached another level in the second half of the 2017-2018 season.
“It was more of, ‘get out of my way, I got to do what I got to do,’” said Dipietro
Dipietro would go on to continue his game-changing abilities, leading the young and inexperienced Spitfires to sixth in the regular season standings, and a playoff berth. He’d go on to take home the OHL goaltender of the year honours, for the 2017-2018 season.
His impressive season would earn him an invite to represent Team Canada at the World Championships. While Dipietro didn’t get into any game action, he was presented the opportunity to practice with some of the worlds best, such as Connor McDavid, Matthew Barzal and Colton Parayko.
Dipietro’s experience at the World Championships further motivated him to don the Team Canada sweater at this year’s World Juniors. He hasn’t forgotten about being told he wasn’t good enough to be on that team.
“Obviously, as a Canadian, you want to see Canada do well. But, them winning gold and knowing that [I] could have been there—still hurts today. It fuels me, comes this year,” Dipietro said.
This year, Dipietro is essentially a lock to earn a spot at the World Juniors this year. There’s a good chance he’ll be the starting goalie, too. But there’s more on Dipietro’s mind than getting redemption from last seasons cut.
He’s looking ahead.
Dipietro keeps an open dialogue with the Canucks goaltending staff throughout the year– such as Ian Clark, Dan Cloutier and Curtis Sanford–as he starts to zone in on succeeding at the next level.
“I’m just trying to learn how to translate my game to the pro game effectively, and be successful at it,” Dipietro said. “For me, that’s a big thing—I want to make sure I’m ready when I make the jump.”
With Dipietro’s championship pedigree and hunger to win, there’s one clear-cut goal on his mind for when he gets to the next level.
“Hopefully win Stanley cups for Vancouver.”