I find myself cheering for the underdog when it comes to Canucks prospect Michael DiPietro.
DiPietro is one of the upper echelon goaltending prospects outside the NHL. He was a dominant goalie most notably with Windsor and, late in his junior career, with Ottawa. He was also a regular with Canada on the international scene. He has a reputation as a great kid with only his work ethic being bigger than his smile.
The Canucks drafted him 64th overall in the 2017 NHL draft, but he remained a bit of a long shot because of his size. He is a rare goalie who is "just" 6 feet tall. Nowadays NHL goalies could be NBA guards, that is how tall they tend to be. When I was a kid a 6 foot tall goalie was considered to be a pretty tall goalie. Now guys like DiPietro look tiny in the net. He is at an immediate disadvantage because he just doesn't occupy as much space as so many goalies do nowadays. Shooters could feast upon that.
But that's not really why I'm cheering for him. I cheer for him because of the way he has to play to compensate for that lack of size. Instead of blocking shots, he needs to be an athletic puck stopper. If he's going to be successful in the NHL, he's going to be spectacular in the process.
Another reason you have to cheer for the kid is because everyone felt so bad about what happened to him in his NHL debut in the 2018-19 season. It seemed every Canucks goalie in the system ended up in the hospital on the night February 11th, 2019. The Canucks had to call up DiPietro out of the junior leagues on an emergency basis to face the high flying San Jose Sharks. The Sharks shellacked the poor kid 7-2, although it was one of the weirdest nights for any NHL goalie in recent memory. There were some crazy bounces to say the least. Everyone in the building - even the Sharks - felt bad for the kid.
DiPietro turned pro this season and has been exceptionally strong in his AHL rookie season with Utica. Lately he's been back with the Canucks, soaking up a more positive atmosphere than his first go around. DiPietro has been backing up Jacob Markstrom in recent games as Thatcher Demko has suffered a concussion. Work hard in practice. Travel with the team. See what it takes to be a NHL pro first hand. But the Canucks really did not want to have to use DiPietro in game action.
That changed on December 15th, 2019 against the Las Vegas Golden Knights. The Knights were clearly the better team on this night, amassing a 5-2 lead when Canucks coach Travis Green decided to relieve Markstrom of his duties in net for the rest of the night. Not that this game was on Markstrom by any means, but Green knew he had to save Markstrom for a busy schedule heading into Christmas. So he gave DiPietro the net for the final nine minutes of the game.
I was just about to stop watching the game, in all honesty. The 5-2 goal was the final nail in the coffin for a Canucks team that looked horribly overmatched much of the night. But I had to watch the rookie goalie in net, and was hoping the hockey gods would treat him much better this time.
DiPietro play really well, stopping six of seven shots including a real doozie off of William Carrier. The kid was doing alright, though the always cagey Max Pacioretty beat him late in the game while expertly using the defenseman as a screen. It was one of those goals that I don't know if many NHL goalies would have stopped. You know, unless you were six foot seven and the puck just happened to hit you.
The one thing I noticed about DiPietro - the kid sure was thirsty. He was drinking from his water bottle at every stoppage of play. I found it funny, but good on the kid. Thrust into an unenviable situation, he's trying to find his routine to make this as normal as possible. So what if the big bad Vegas Knights are shooting on you. If you can find your groove, you'll quickly just get lost in the game and play as though it's just another game. It seemed to work for DiPietro for the most part.
The kid is going to be alright.