Michael “Mikey” DiPietro spent almost all of the 2020-21 season on the sidelines. Now he’s on his way to Latvia to do some more sitting around with Team Canada at the 2021 World Championship.
The 21-year-old goaltender is the Vancouver Canucks’ top goaltending prospect but his development might have taken a hit this past year, as he spent most of his time on the Canucks’ taxi squad. While that gave him time to work with goaltending coach Ian Clark, that doesn’t replace the need for playing games.
Kevin Woodley of InGoal Magazine sounded the alarm on DiPietro’s lack of playing time earlier this season.
“What they’re doing to Mikey DiPietro right now borders on — criminal is too strong a word but it’s not far from it,” said Woodley.
“I’ve talked to other organizations that have models in terms of goaltenders and how they get to the NHL and the one thing that you can’t skip is games played,” he added. “As Mitch [Korn] has told me many times, ‘Beer pong is a game of shots. Goalie is a game of patterns and the only way to start to put those patterns together and recognize them is to play games.’”
DiPietro was finally sent down to the AHL near the end of April to get some starts for the Utica Comets. He’s been able to start three games so far, with middling results, which is unsurprising given his lack of playing time this year.
Despite that, Hockey Canada still extended the invite to DiPietro to join the Canadian team in Latvia for the World Championship.
Third-string behind two Coyotes
DiPietro will start at least one more game for Utica on Wednesday night before he heads to Latvia and could play one or two more. The Comets have just three games remaining in their schedule, which ends on Sunday. It’s unclear when DiPietro would need to leave for Latvia. With the tournament starting on May 21, he would need to leave soon if a one-week COVID-19 quarantine will be required.
DiPietro will be the third goaltender behind Darcy Kuemper and Adin Hill, both from the Arizona Coyotes. It’s entirely possible that he won’t see any game action in Latvia, same as his last stint on Canada’s World Championship team in 2018.
That year, his spot on the team was an opportunity to get some experience heading into the World Junior championship later that year. This year, he may have been one of Hockey Canada’s only options. Other Canadian goaltenders are either in the playoffs or exhausted from the tightly-scheduled NHL season. DiPietro, on the other hand, is fresh as a daisy.
On the other hand, DiPietro has been thought of quite highly by Hockey Canada for a long time. With many of the top Canadian goaltenders in the NHL getting a little long-in-the-tooth, Hockey Canada may be gambling on DiPietro becoming a top-tier goaltender that they can rely on for future tournaments.
Will any other Canucks play in the World Championship?
DiPietro will be joined on Team Canada by former Canuck Troy Stecher in his second World Championship tournament — he won silver in 2019 — but it’s uncertain whether he’ll be joined by any current Canucks.
Given the team’s COVID-19 outbreak and grueling post-outbreak schedule, it seems likely that most Canucks will decline to go to Latvia if they’re invited. In fact, their schedule going all the way to May 19 would likely make it difficult even if they wanted to go.
J.T. Miller, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, and Thatcher Demko have reportedly declined for Team USA already and the same is true for Bo Horvat and Team Canada. Elias Pettersson still hasn’t returned from injury and Nils Höglander has played more hockey this season than anyone else on the Canucks, so Sweden likely won’t have any Canucks on the roster either.
There are two Canucks, however, who could find their way onto a World Championship roster.
Prospects Rathbone and Podkolzin could join USA and Russia
Jack Rathbone has reportedly received some interest from Team USA, though he has not been invited yet.
Rathbone has played just 13 games over the past year, so could certainly use some ice time. He was fantastic in Utica, with 9 points in 8 games, and has looked comfortable with the Canucks in five games, tallying a goal and an assist. If the schedule works out for him to head to Latvia in time to play in the tournament, it would be a fantastic opportunity for him.
The other Canuck that could play is their top prospect, Vasily Podkolzin.
Podkolzin is currently playing for Russia in the Czech Hockey Games, which are the final leg of the Euro Hockey Tour. The three-game tournament is being used by several teams to prepare for the World Championship, so his presence on the roster is a strong indication that he could play for Russia in the World Championship as well.
Podkolzin has one assist in the lone game Russia has played so far in the Czech Hockey Games. They will face Finland on Thursday, then the Czech Republic on Saturday.