Competing for goaltending jobs this season for the OHL Windsor Spitfires are three netminders who will be no strangers to followers of the GOJHL Western Conference. Draftees Eli Billing (LaSalle Vipers), Anthony Hurtubise (Lambton Shores Predators) and Mike DiPietro (Leamington Flyers) are all vying to backup starter Brendan Johnston.
DiPietro, who filled in admirably as a 15-year-old emergency fill-in for the Leamington Flyers last season when the Flyers ran into suspension problems, has the inside track signing with his boyhood idols.
Read the entire story below by The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff. (photo credit – Nick Brancaccio, The Windsor Star)
Athletes like to talk about the value of positive reinforcement – imagining a scenario in advance and playing it out in their mind’s eye, as they would want the end result to be.
Over the years, in his imagination, Mike DiPietro has often tended goal for the Windsor Spitfires.
“I dream about it for sure,” DiPietro admitted.
Tuesday, that dream took a significant step toward becoming reality.
The Spitfires held their first on-ice sessions of training camp in preparation for the Ontario Hockey League season, and for the first time ever, Amherstburg’s DiPietro – Windsor’s second pick, chosen 23rd overall in the 2015 OHL Priority Selection Draft – performed at the WFCU Centre as a member of the team he worshipped as a child.
“It’s something special,” DiPietro said. “I’m excited to help the Spits win. I’ve grown up watching these guys and now I’m part of it.”
As a wide-eyed youngster, DiPietro sat on the other side of the glass as Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique led the Spitfires to back-to-back Memorial Cups.
They were two of his favourite players.
“And then goalie-wise it was (Andrew) Engelage, and (Philipp) Grubauer,” DiPietro said. “I tried to take little bits from them, and now I’ve just got to make my own path in the league.”
Since Engelage left in 2009, Windsor’s been on the lookout for another home-grown goaltender.
In DiPietro, the Spitfires see their goalie of the future.
That future, however, is not now.
It would be pure folly to expect a 16-year-old to be an OHL team’s go-to puckstopper.
They know that.
“We have to monitor his games,” Windsor general manager Warren Rychel said. “You don’t want to wreck the psyche of a 16-year-old goalie.”
He knows that.
“I’m not expecting to jump in and take the No. 1 starting job,” DiPietro said. “I expect to get better every day. I just want to keep improving.
“I’m still young, still got a lot of growth to do as a goalie.”
DiPietro did plenty of growing this past season.
He posted a 2.15 goals-against average and .918 save percentage last season for the Sun County Panthers. DiPietro was stellar at the Canada Winter Games, with a .971 save percentage and 0.75 GAA for Ontario’s gold-medal winner.
“We’re really excited about how he’s developed over the last couple of years and where that development has taken him,” Windsor coach Rocky Thompson said. “He did really well in Calgary at the Hockey Canada (under-17) camp.
“The development is going to continue here under our eye and get him into the position where he can be the goaltender we know he can be.”
There are six netminders in camp with the Spits – returnee Brendan Johnston, draftees Eli Billing and Anthony Hurtubise and free agents Mario Culina and Myles Hektor joining DiPietro.
If you were setting a form chart, the two available jobs would appear to be Johnston’s and DiPietro’s to lose.
Johnston figures to take on the majority of the workload this season as the Spits allow DiPietro to get his feet wet in the league, knowing that before long, he’ll be their guy.
“It’s not a pressure-filled situation,” Thompson said. “It’s an encouraging one that is exciting.
“We’re going to protect him and give him the opportunity to succeed.”
An opportunity to make his dream come true as far as DiPietro is concerned.
“September 24 (Windsor’s season opener vs. Erie) is marked on my calendar and I just can’t wait for that day,” DiPietro said.
“When that day comes, there’s going to be butterflies. There’s going to be over-excitement for sure.”
The Spitfires have been waiting for years to develop their own goalie.
DiPietro’s been waiting his whole lifetime to be that guy.