Fans who run into Michael DiPietro at the WFCU Centre or out and about around Windsor can attest that the 19-year-old will almost always have a smile on his face. An upbeat, socially outgoing personality who is always down for a good conversation, DiPietro wears that grin for a reason.
Growing up just down the road in Amherstburg, DiPietro dreamed of someday playing for the Spitfires. Little did he know at the time that he’d go on to establish himself as one of the greatest goaltenders in team history, entering his fourth season just four wins shy of a franchise record.
Known affectionally throughout Windsor as ‘Mikey’, DiPietro’s detailed list of accomplishments is headlined by a Memorial Cup championship, 2018 OHL Goaltender of the Year honours as well as a franchise record 15 career shutouts, one shy of an all-time OHL mark currently held by Tom McCollum.
After backstopping a rebuilding Spits team into the OHL Playoffs last spring, the Vancouver Canucks third round pick took time to reflect on his time spent in Canada’s southernmost city as he prepares for his fourth tour of duty.
“I kind of look back on it now and see what a whirlwind it’s been,” he said. “Even leading up to the OHL Draft and all that uncertainty. I’m just really thankful that the Spitfires took me and how much faith they’ve shown throughout my time here.
“Even in the Memorial Cup year I was only 17 and they could’ve easily decided to go out and get an older guy but they trusted me and that still means a lot,” he continued. “I’m very thankful to Warren Rychel, the ownership, my coaches and teammates throughout my time here for helping me become the goaltender I am today.
“It’s been an honour to be part of this organization and I hope to finish things out as a Spitfire.”
Through 136 career regular season games, DiPietro has played to a 75-41-8-4 record with a 2.55 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. He’s posted a 2.79 goals-against average and .917 save percentage over 16 career playoff contests as well while a sterling performance at the 2016 Memorial Cup earned him the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the event’s Most Outstanding Goaltender.
While his accomplishments on the ice are impressive, DiPietro has placed a lot of emphasis on his impact away from the rink, expressing a desire to touch the lives of children in the Windsor area. He recently made a trip to visit Jason Heynesbroek, a young fan recovering from eye surgery, bringing gifts while surprising him with the news that he will be a Spitfires season ticket holder in 2018-19.
“Hockey provides me a platform to do a lot of good in the community,” said DiPietro. “I still kind of have to pinch myself when I see kids wearing my jersey or recognizing me out at the mall. Being a Spitfire is a lot more than just playing hockey. We’re all role models for these kids and that’s a great honour and responsibility.”
While guiding a developing Spitfires club back into the OHL Playoffs and playing an active role in the community are at the top of DiPietro’s priority list for 2018-19, a spot on Canada’s National Junior Team is also in his sights.
After he was a late cut from an eventual gold medal-winning Canadian squad last December, DiPietro surprised the hockey world when he made Canada’s roster for the 2018 IIHF World Hockey Championship in Copenhagen and Herning, Denmark. Despite not seeing any game action, he relished the opportunity to work alongside NHL stars in Connor McDavid, Ryan O’Reilly, Brayden Schenn and fellow netminders Darcy Kuemper and Curtis McElhinney.
“I think being a part of the World Championships was a great way of propelling my summer forward and provided a stepping stone to really show me what it’s going to take to make the jump and play with guys of that calibre on a regular basis,” said DiPietro. “I’m grateful to Hockey Canada for the experience and that I was able to pick the brains of guys playing in the professional ranks. I really learned a lot.
“Making the World Junior team is a big goal of mine for this season,” he continued. “I’ve got a lot to prove not only with the guys here in Windsor, but with the challenge of making the World Junior team and working to help us win gold in Vancouver.”
Between his on-and-off-ice impact in Windsor, World Junior pursuits and bright future with the Vancouver Canucks, DiPietro has a lot on his plate for a 19-year-old, but one thing’s for sure: he’ll have a smile on his face through it all.
“I wouldn’t be playing hockey without having fun or smiling or joking around,” he said with a laugh. “The higher you go the easier it can be for the fun to get sucked out of it, but I never want it to feel like that. We’re really privileged to be able to play this game and I want to enjoy every minute.”
Over 20 days in August ontariohockeyleague.com will shine a summer spotlight on storylines from all 20 OHL clubs. See more from the OHL 20 in 20 series.