DiPietro buoyed by taxi-squad survival

American Hockey League

‘I went through every different emotion … and you question things which is only natural. I had to lean on my mental-strength coach a lot during it.’ — Michael DiPietro on taxi-squad experience

Article content

Michael DiPietro could have chuckled at the lighthearted query.

However, when the energetic and engaging Vancouver Canucks goalie-in-waiting was asked if he owned a ‘I Survived the Taxi Squad’ T-shirt, he didn’t respond with a boisterous cackle Friday from his off-season home in Amherstburg, Ont., a 35-minute drive from Windsor.

He couldn’t.

“No, I don’t have a T-shirt like that,” said DiPietro. “As the year went on, it was extremely hard. You’re skating and working out, but at the same time, you don’t feel like you’re part of the team. I got one or two call-ups and then you’re back down and it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do mentally.

“I went through every different emotion — frustrated, happy and sad — and you question things which is only natural. I had to lean on my mental-strength coach a lot during it. With all the things said about the AHL maybe starting up, I was getting restless and I tried to not let it come to the rink with me.


Story continues below

Article content

“You have to accept that some things are just out of your control. You can just control the intention you enter the ice with every day and that’s what kind of got me through and grow and to feel as good as I do about my game.”

In a compacted and coronavirus inflicted season in which DiPietro could have been labelled ‘Bubble Boy’ or ‘Shooter Tutor’ for numerous quarantine scenarios and practising endlessly at the NHL level — and then playing just four late-campaign AHL games with the Utica Comets — he could have also been tabbed ‘The Survivor’.

Especially when DiPietro finally found the AHL net. Instead of a smooth transition, it was a tenuous situation.

Thatcher Demko suffered a lower-body injury during the morning skate in Ottawa on April 26 and prospect Arturs Silovs was summoned as a backup to Braden Holtby. Depending on the severity of the ailment, DiPietro could have flown back to Vancouver and quarantine to be a tandem option.

If that wasn’t enough, AHL protocols required a three-day quarantine before playing.

“When I got to Utica and woke up the next morning, my brother asked me if I was going back to Vancouver,” recalled DiPietro. “I said: ‘What are you talking about?’ I don’t have social media and I just kind of rolled with the punches. I just focused on the moment. It was a crazy year.”

The reward for pushing through a prolonged period of mettle testing was celebrating Christmas in June.

When crease coach and confidant Ian Clark was rewarded with a reported five-year contract extension, and title of director of goaltending Wednesday, it was the same day DiPietro celebrated his 22nd birthday. It was like hitting the daily-double.


Story continues below

Article content

Fresh from a gold-medal experience with Team Canada at the world hockey championship, where he served as the third stopper, DiPietro feels like he’s in a better place. His coach is in place. He could challenge for a roster spot next fall — especially if Holtby is exposed and claimed in the expansion draft — and his heavily stricken home province is finally seeing some normalcy light at the end of a long and dark COVID-19 tunnel.

Goalies can be quirky in preparation and deportment, and a good crease coach is like a good doctor, mechanic or financial adviser. Hard to find. Important to keep.

“I’m obviously super-happy and excited,” DiPietro said of Clark’s extension. “Before meeting him, I thought my game was (going) well. With his help and guidance, and by keeping an open mind, I was able to make changes to my game. Once you find somebody you really like working with, and you get along and he understands me as a person and a goalie, you want to keep working at it.

“It was great news, but you can’t be too complacent or comfortable.”

In a shortened 2019-20 rookie season with the Comets, DiPietro sported a 21-11-1 record, 2.79 goals-against average, .908 save percentage and transitioned into a starter. But he knew the learning curve would only get steeper on-and-off the ice — even after winning a Memorial Cup (2017) and earning world junior hockey championship praise (2019).

DiPietro has appeared in two just NHL games. Last season, there was a third-period relief appearance in a 6-3 loss at Las Vegas. And in 2018-19, there was the mind-numbing, circus like 7-2 drubbing by San Jose because Jacob Markstrom and Demko were injured — although Markstrom did act as the backup.


Story continues below

Article content

DiPietro took the high road for being thrown into that fire and is better for it because it made him more anxious to soak up Clark’s tough tutelage.

“He recognizes a goalie’s strength and will apply concepts and not to expose weaknesses, but showing where it will help your game,” stressed DiPietro. “There’s always a why. He’s not just telling you to do something, there’s a reason behind it. Clark and Sanford (AHL goalie coach Curtis) are on the same page, and when you’re hearing the same message, it’s a lot easier to make changes in your game — you’re not half-in-and-half-out.”

Goalies speak a different lingo and for the layman trying to understand the language and position, it’s a lot more that just stopping the puck.

“It a few things,” added DiPietro. “Going back to my rookie season in the NHL, we really wanted to work on traffic management and my stance adjustments in high, medium and low. As that progressed, it was more getting tighter with my post play, extensions, reverse tracking and shorter shuffles to make sure I have lighter feet.

“You slowly chip away at these things and you don’t forget them. It’s like checking off boxes.”

So is dealing with COVID-19.

“Everything was locked down tight in my area because we have a lot of migrants working in the greenhouses of Leamington,” DiPietro said of the virus gripping southern Ontario. “I’m fully vaccinated now, which is great. But I’m just as confused as everybody else on what’s going on and what we’re allowed to do and not allowed to do.


Story continues below

Article content

“I’m just counting down these 14 days (after second vaccination) and then hopefully return to somewhat of a normal summer. Everybody has kind of gone through their own version and this whole year seems to be something of quarantines and restrictions.

“For me, I do everything I’m told and the best I got was being exempt and being able to work out and skate. But it has been insane.”

Sanity comes from a gradual return to pre-COVID life and anticipation of a normal training camp.

“That’s my driving force,” summed up DiPietro. “It was a tough year, but I use it as motivation.”




Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourage all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments may take up to an hour for moderation before appearing on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications—you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, there is an update to a comment thread you follow or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.

Products You May Like

Articles You May Like

Maple Leafs News & Rumors: Dubas’ Hot Seat & Losing McCann and Hyman
Peter “Foppa” Forsberg: A Biography
Lynch, Kemp, Bird among stars at Kraken draft
Kraken expansion draft to be milestone for Seattle
Buffalo Sabres select Owen Power 1st overall in NHL entry draft

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *