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World Juniors

DiPietro has reminder on blocker to focus on ABC at WJC

Canucks goalie prospect using advice from mental performance coach to stay sharp

by Kevin Woodley / Correspondent

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks goalie prospect Michael DiPietro debuted a new set of red-and-white, maple leaf-adorned Bauer pads and gloves shortly after learning he'd be playing for Canada at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.

So why was the 19-year-old goalie marking up his new blocker with a felt pen before making his second pre-tournament start, against Finland on Sunday?

After admitting to nerves and drifting focus amid long periods of inactivity during his first pre-tournament game, a 5-3 win against Switzerland at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, British Columbia on Dec. 19 in which he made 14 saves, DiPietro added a couple of easily visible hand-written reminders to the inside of his blocker cuff after talking to Dr. Ryan Hamilton, Canada's mental performance consultant.

"Take things one puck at a time, and then ABC: Be Aware, Breathe, Choose," DiPietro said. "I was talking to our sports psychologist and it stuck out to me. Be aware of your surroundings, be aware your mind is drifting, take a breath and then choose what to focus on. It's just mental."

So much of goaltending often is, but DiPietro faces extra distractions with Canada playing its preliminary-round games Rogers Arena, home of the Canucks, who selected him in the third round (No. 64) of the 2017 NHL Draft.

DiPietro's progress has been monitored closely and much hyped in Vancouver, adding another layer to the already pressure-packed job of being a goalie at a WJC on home ice.

So just as he did last season, when he set a motivational reminder on his phone after he was cut by Canada during final selection camp for the 2018 WJC, DiPietro will use the message on his blocker as another way to help him.

"It's really hyped, this event, and it being in Canada and everything that comes along with that, and me being a Canucks prospect, I just have to remember to keep things simple and just play goal," DiPietro said.

Whether he gets to do that as Canada's No. 1 remains to be seen.

DiPietro gave up two goals on 15 shots in playing the first half of a 5-2 loss against Finland at Rogers Arena on Sunday. Ian Scott (Toronto Maple Leafs) played the second half of the game and made seven saves on nine shots.

Scott is 23-2-1 with a .943 save percentage and four shutouts for Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League this season, and Canada coach Tim Hunter praised Scott's calm style after he made 22 saves in a 6-1 pre-tournament win against Slovakia at Save-On Foods Memorial Centre on Friday.

Hunter said he hasn't picked his starter for the 2019 WJC, which starts Wednesday and runs through Jan. 5 in Vancouver and Victoria. He said it's likely Scott and DiPietro will split the first two games, against Denmark on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; TSN, NHLN [joined in progress]) and against Switzerland on Thursday, and then the coaching staff will make a decision for the remainder of the tournament.

The challenge for DiPietro is not worrying about that decision.

"Just take one puck at a time, don't worry about what's down the road or that it's the Vancouver Canucks' building," Canada goaltending consultant Fred Brathwaite said. "He just has to come in, play one shot at a time and want to be in this situation. When you play for Canada you are nervous, the pressure is real, but just accept you want to be in this position and play the game you know how to play."

DiPietro's game has evolved since he was drafted.

Best known for his competitiveness and athleticism making desperate second and third saves while helping Windsor win the Memorial Cup in 2017, DiPietro has quieted his game. A more relaxed stance and improved efficiency in movement and tracking mechanics were part of him being named Ontario Hockey League goaltender of the year last season, and having a .922 save percentage in 22 OHL games this season.

"He's not as busy as he used to be but he still makes those athletic saves when needed," Brathwaite said.

Video: Cosentino on DiPietro, Canada forwards ahead of WJC

DiPietro was Canada's third goalie at the 2018 IIHF World Championship and remembers some of the advice he got from his roommate, Carolina Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney.

"Just the mental side of the game," DiPietro said. "An event like World Juniors gets analyzed times 1,000 in my opinion and sometimes you can see yourself reading into a lot of things and kind of forgetting just to play. It's just focusing on my game and what is happening on the ice and try to block out the outside noise. He definitely gave me a strategy for that. All you can do is take it one puck at a time."

If he needs a reminder mid-game, all DiPietro has to do is glance at his right wrist.

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