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Photo Credit: © Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

It’s time for Mikey DiPietro to start getting more starts and become a horse out in Abbotsford

It’s time for Mikey DiPietro to begin playing more games with the Abbotsford Canucks.

We are nine games into the Canucks’ AHL season and DiPietro has only played in four games — the same amount of games he got into last year.

The 22-year-old DiPietro needs to get into games to continue developing. This current season presents a much better situation for DiPietro than what we saw last year. DiPietro sat on the taxi squad for most of the 2020-21 season and missed much needed game-action for his development.

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After last season, you’d expect to see DiPietro getting much more action. Abbotsford Canucks general manager Ryan Johnson even said so in the summer when he spoke with CanucksArmy.

“Mikey loves a lot of action and he doesn’t love rest,” said Johnson back in July. “He’s probably going to be a 50-plus start guy, especially with it now in a Pacific where we’re 68 games, not 76. We will come in on a Saturday morning and Mikey is the first one at the gates after a Friday night game and he is smiling and giving you that look of like ‘hey, I’m going right?!?’ I love it. So that’s why 50-plus starts doesn’t scare me, because Mikey thrives the more he goes.”

At this current rate, 50 starts seems out of the realm of possibility.

The current rate is set to change, though.

The Abbotsford Canucks have only had one mid-week game so far this season. All of their other games have been on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday through the first three weeks of the season. The A-Canucks play their second mid-week game on November 30th, when they host the Ontario Reign on a Tuesday.

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DiPietro is aware of the schedule but is itching to get into more games as the season begins to crank up.

“We have three goalies here and everybody wants to play,” said DiPietro. “I’m no different. I want to play every game and obviously that’s unrealistic, especially the way the season has started with only like two games a week. Getting into a rhythm is really important. It’s tough when you start the season like that and it’s a one-start-a-week thing. I rely a lot on practices and continuing to build on my practice habits. You just have to trust the process.”

DiPietro clearly wants to play and when things aren’t going well in the one game that he does get into, it makes it tough on the young goaltender.

“When you don’t get the results you want, the week just seems long,” said DiPietro. “It’s just having the mental fortitude. I rely a lot on my mental skills coach and on my parents back home. I’m often venting to them, getting some frustration out because I want to win games, I want to make sure I’m pulling my weight in the room. Then, when you don’t play as often, it just feels like every loss is bigger than what it really is in the grand scheme of things. I’m really trying to work on the mental side of things, keep an even keel and really just wrapping my brain around that side of things and approach each day for what it is.”

We are all aware of how much work DiPietro was able to do with Ian Clark last season and now DiPietro is back with Curtis Sanford, who has been the AHL team’s goalie coach since 2017. DiPietro says that Clark and Sanford are totally on the same page with what they are teaching him and the other goalies out in Abbotsford but that they don’t exactly do it the same way.

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“Clarkie and Sandman have different approaches to it to the way they send a message across but I think the message is still received in the same way,” said DiPietro. “We have video chats and whatnot to make sure we’re doing the right things in games, we spend a lot of time going through save clips. I really like Sandman as a goalie coach, he has always been really helpful on and off the ice for myself. He’s a resource to talk to about anything and he’s someone that I can bounce any thoughts off of.”

Through four starts, DiPietro has a sub .900 save percentage but has experienced a ridiculous amount of scoring chances against him through those four games. We joked about him having to make about 14 big glove saves in his last start. During that game, he faced two breakaways while his team was on a five-on-three advantage.

“Anytime you can catch pucks and kill plays, it’s a good feeling,” said DiPietro. “Plus, my mom really loves glove saves, it’s just always good to make a few confidence-boosting saves. As for the five-on-three, you’ve got to stop the pucks that come your way, especially during a five-on-three. You’ve got to make sure you’re mentally alert. Those are big pivotal points in the game and you want to stay sharp and make sure you make those key saves so that momentum doesn’t just die and swing away. Making those saves for me was a key in that point in the game.”

Once the season cranks up in December and we begin to see more mid-week games, DiPietro should be getting more starts. The worrisome part came a couple of weekends ago when DiPietro didn’t get one of the two weekend starts. He backed up Spencer Martin on Saturday night but a weekend of AHL action should not go by without DiPietro getting into at least one game. Abbotsford head coach Trent Cull has been clear in talking about being confident in all three of his goalies but DiPietro is on a path that should see him in the NHL next season. After missing so much game-action last season, he needs to play close to Johnson’s projection of 50 starts this season.

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This weekend has the opportunity to be step one in getting DiPietro more action. The A-Canucks play two home games, one on Friday night and one on Sunday night. DiPietro said that he wants to play every night but knows that it’s not realistic. This weekend, it should be realistic that DiPietro can start both games. Arturs Silovs has been good this season but the goalie who needs to most work this season is DiPietro.

The season does have some busier months as we progress through the year. After having just one mid-week game in October and one mid-week game in November, the A-Canucks have five mid-week games in December, one in January, two in February, and seven in March.

Opportunities are there for DiPietro to get more starts but the weekends without any action need to end. The A-Canucks do have three solid AHL goaltenders but only one of those three is expected to be in the NHL next season and for that reason — DiPietro should be getting more starts.