No, Michael DiPietro is not related to former New York Islanders goaltender Rick DiPietro, and yes, he does get that a lot. But it was a family member who first encouraged him to play goalie, the position at which he developed into one of the top prospects in this year's draft.
DiPietro, a defenseman at first, remembers attending a game at age 9 in which his step brother, Mark Fenty, was between the pipes. Something clicked when DiPietro watched his brother make a breakaway save. He noticed for the first time how the entire momentum of a game could change with one stop, and he knew he wanted the ability to make that same type of impact.
"Right then and there I turned to my dad and I never saw his face turn white like that before, when I told him I wanted to be a goalie," DiPietro said. "He was clamping onto his checkbook pretty hard when I told him that."
Fortunately, Vic DiPietro was a supportive father. Michael made the switch, and it turned out the position fit his personality well. He found that he thrived under pressure - a trait he may have picked up from Vic, too.
Michael's birth mother passed away when he was 5, and it was just him and his father until Vic met Michael's step mother, Assunta Fenty-DiPietro, a few years later.
"I guess it's just instilled in me," DiPietro said. "Ever since my mom passed away, my dad had the pressure of raising me by himself until he met my stepmom. So I guess pressure's always been in my life.
"Pressure's something I embrace, I'm not really afraid of it. I enjoy it. I think that's when I play my best, when there's a lot of pressure."
Video: Prospect Avenue: Goaltenders
DiPietro's love of the big moment served him well this past season when his Windsor team played for the Memorial Cup in spite of an early exit in the OHL playoffs. As hosts of the tournament, the Spitfires were granted automatic entry along with the OHL, WHL and OMJHL champions.
Knowing the team would make the tournament regardless of how its season went certainly made for an interesting dynamic. DiPietro called it the "craziest hockey year" of his life.
"Different people found it difficult in different areas," he said. "For myself, I really tried not to think about the tournament until it was actually here because we wanted to put on a good showing … If you come in September and you're already thinking about the Memorial Cup, you don't want to waste a whole season just for a week."
The Spitfires were looked at as underdogs once the tournament finally began, over a month after their first-round loss to London in the OHL playoffs. DiPietro said the team embraced that label, and they performed accordingly. Windsor went undefeated and won the Memorial Cup, defeating OHL champion Erie twice along the way.
DiPietro posted a .932 save percentage and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Goaltender.
Less than a week later he was at the NHL Scouting Combine in Buffalo, thinking of all the people who made it possible.
"I guess any stage of my life I don't really focus on myself. It's the people who helped me get here," he said. "When I come to an event like this from a small town, in Amherstburg, I'm just really tankful. I'm thinking about them. I'm thinking about my real mom. I'm thinking about my goalie coach who helped me along the way. Because they all played a big part in this.
"I'm just happy I can show the fruits of their labor with what I do in the net."