Michael DiPietro backstops Spitfires to Memorial Cup final
Goalie leads tournament in save percentage, goals against average
Windsor Spitfires coach Rocky Thompson isn't asking his team to play a perfect game at the Memorial Cup.
It hasn't been needed with Michael DiPietro in net.
"When we make mistakes we have a great goaltender who can make a save for us," said Thompson.
"In a tight game, playoffs, whatever, you're gonna need your goalie to make a big save and [he's] made more than one."
DiPietro is outplaying his competition at the Memorial Cup, and is a big reason why the Spitfires won three straight games to reach the four-team tournament final.
The 17-year-old goaltender leads the high-scoring competition with a 1.67 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. In comparison, Saint John Sea Dogs netminder Callum Booth is second with a 3.57 GAA and .882 save percentage.
In each of Windsor's victories, DiPietro was called upon at a certain point to bail his team out. Every time he came through.
"I like that I can be a game changer, a factor, I love the pressure," DiPietro, who is eligible for this summer's NHL Draft, said.
DiPietro, who is listed at six-foot and 193 pounds, decided at nine years old he wanted to become a goaltender after watching his stepbrother Mark play the position. Through major novice he was a defenceman, but was inspired by the reaction Mark got from a crowd when making a save even in youth house league.
The Amherstburg, Ont., native said from that point forward goaltending was what he wanted to do and he grew up idolizing L.A. Kings netminder Jonathan Quick.
"The way he battles, competes, I like to model my game after him," said DiPietro.
In Windsor's tournament opener, DiPietro helped to stave off a late barrage by the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Saint John Sea Dogs to hold on for a 3-2 win — the only one-goal game at the tournament.
He wasn't needed often in the Spitfires' second game against the Western Hockey League champion Seattle Thunderbirds, but a desperation save on the first shift of the game while tied at zeros set the tone.
Windsor responded with three goals in 38 seconds, tying the Memorial Cup record for the three fastest goals set back in 1978, en route to a 7-1 victory.
"I saw it and was like 'oh god,' and I got my stick on it, got me in the game," he said about the puck he pulled off the goal-line.
DiPietro then stopped 33-of-35 shots — including 28 in the final two periods — for a 4-2 win against the explosive Erie Otters, Ontario Hockey League champions.
"Mikey DiPietro was the reason once again we could hold onto that lead and give us a chance to play for something as prestigious as the Memorial Cup," said Thompson.
With his hometown just a 35-minute drive south from Windsor, he had over 20 friends and family in attendance to watch the game against Erie, including Mark and his parents. Seeing them in the crowd is a common occurrence through his first two seasons with the Spitfires.
"I'm very thankful for them," said DiPietro.
Not just a showcase
The Memorial Cup is a great time for a goalie to get hot and put together a streak, but DiPietro's play has been consistent all season.
He tied the Spitfires franchise record for goals-against average this season with a 2.35 while setting the new shutout standard with six. Three of them were in a row as he went 209 minutes and 23 seconds without allowing a goal — another team record.
He's currently ranked No. 4 on the central scouting list for North American goalies, but isn't thinking much about June's draft with Sunday's championship game awaiting.
"I think this tournament gives me another way to showcase my ability, it's a big stage," said DiPietro. "But I'm not focused on the draft right now, our goal is to win the Memorial Cup."