Michael DiPietro/Jake Kielly

The Vancouver Canucks had some issues with their goaltending last year and have tried to address that issue, in part, by adding to their stable. I was able to speak with two of their young goaltenders at development camp last week and will share some of what I learned with you folks here today.

The team currently has Jacob Markstrom, Thatcher Demko, Michael DiPietro, Jake Kielly, Richard Bachman, and newcomer Zane McIntyre signed to NHL contracts for the 2019/20 season. I think it is safe to assume that barring injury, Markstrom and Demko will be manning the net in Vancouver, while the foursome of Bachman, McIntyre, DiPietro, and Kielly will duke it out for the two jobs in Utica. That will be an interesting battle to watch play out.

Let’s start with what Michael DiPietro had to say at development camp last week.

Michael DiPietro

This year marked DiPietro’s third time at Canucks development camp and the young netminder told reporters that it was nice to know what to expect coming in. DiPietro said that he felt better each day at camp and was happy with the work that he had put in and was really excited to apply the methods that he’s been practising.

DiPietro also said that he is happy with his development over his four years of junior and felt that he was able to make progress each season and will look back fondly on his junior career. The netminder said that he is really excited for the next step, but also realizes that there will be bumps in the road along the way. He feels that his mindset is in the right place and looks forward to the next chapter in his hockey career.

Michael plans to spend the next little bit processing the information that he picked up at camp and will slowly apply it throughout the summer.

One thing that I have noticed about DiPietro is how comfortable and loose he is with cameras and microphones in his face and dealing with the media in general. I asked if that laid back demeanour was something that crossed over to his game on the ice.

“You’ve just gotta have fun. I mean, I’m playing the game that I love. Yes, this is a bigger stage, bigger platform, but for me, I just have to be myself on and off the ice. You have to enjoy what you’re doing and have fun and always be willing to smile because right now, this is a great time in my life and I’m just trying to learn and absorb as much as I can. As I grow, hopefully, I can take these learning experiences and become a better person and better goaltender down the road.”

I posed my next question to both DiPietro and Kielly as I wondered about the different answers that I would get from a goaltender coming out of junior hockey vs the NCAA. I wanted to know how they would handle the challenge of being out on their own as pros now as opposed to having parents or billet families helping them look after their day-to-day life away from the rink.

“I think that will be a good test for me. My parents have done a really good job of showing me the way around the kitchen. I think that coming from an Italian background, that will kind of take care of itself.”

“On the other part of it, I think that finding things to do during the day, that will be a big thing. You’re only allowed at the rink for a certain number of hours, so maybe I will pick up a few classes to keep me busy and keep my mind going as well.”

“I’m interested to see how the jump goes for me. I’m going in open-minded and hopefully, it will be as smooth a transition as possible. I’m not oblivious to the fact that pro hockey is different than junior and I could get away with some things in junior that I won’t be able to get away with at the pro level. I ‘ve got to shape around those things in my game and grow as a goaltender and as a person because I am an old man now. I’m 20-years-old!” 

I got quite the chuckle out of that last comment from DiPietro and it is that side of his personality that will quickly make him a fan favourite in any market that he ends up playing in down the road. This kid has a great attitude and sense of humour.

DiPietro also told reporters that he really likes working with Canucks goalie coach Ian Clark because he tells you what you need to work on, but also why you need to work on it. For Michael, the “why” is the biggest part because it helps him understand how/why these things will benefit his game at the pro level and the young goaltender is excited to continue growing his game.

From DiPietro, we move on to Jake Kielly. The 22-year-old Kielly signed with the Canucks at the end of last season after wrapping up his three-year NCAA career with Clarkson University.

Jake Kielly

As an undrafted free agent out of the NCAA, I wondered what went into Kielly’s decision-making process when he was deciding which team to sign with.

“In college, it’s kind of a really quick process. I mean, our season ended on a Friday, I talked to my agents on Saturday, and on Sunday morning I kind of had to make up my mind.”

“You know, the one thing that Vancouver threw in was being able to join the team at the end of the year. I was able to get to know the organization and some of the people a little bit and that was nice. You know, it ultimately just comes down to which team’s beliefs I believe in as well. When I was talking to different teams and talking to my agents, this just seemed like the best fit for me and I can see myself playing here for a long time.”

I wanted to circle back to something Jake said while answering that question and asked him how he benefitted from spending time with the Canucks at the end of last season.

“The best thing with that was that I was able to get here and spend time with goalie coach Ian Clark for a little bit before heading into the summer. He has some really specific beliefs that he wants to see in his goalies, so being able to come in and get those things kind of into the back of my mind going into the summer for what I need to work on was big for me.”

“I mean, it’s just some little things, but it’s stuff that, you know, you need to be really good at to play in the NHL and he did a really good job of explaining that to me and I thought that stuck with me.”

Building on what Kielly said about going into his offseason, I asked if there was something outside of what Ian Clark wanted him to work on that he felt needed work in his game/if he would be taking a different approach to his offseason routine going into his first pro campaign.

“I don’t think so. I’ve always been a believer in whatever training that I’ve done. I’ve always weighed my options really well in terms of what I needed for the season that was upcoming. I thought that at school, the strength coach that we had at Clarkson did a really good job of prepping me for the college season and what was to come.”

“You know, my goalie coach back home has always been really solid about making sure that I was ready going into the fall, so I don’t think that there’s a ton that needs to change. I’m doing Vancouver’s weight program and now I have things from Clarky and the staff here that I need to focus on going into the summer but in terms of changing anything, not really.”

“I think that you know, just sticking to it and believing in the people that I have around me, that they are giving me the best information possible and I’m just going into next year and seeing what happens.”

This was where I posed the question that I asked DiPietro about how to handle the challenge that first-year pros can face with being out on their own for the first time.

“The one thing that I think I enjoyed so much about college is that it teaches you a lot about time management. You’re going to class basically from 9-2 every day, then you’re at the rink from 3-5. Then you go home and cook dinner, do your homework and get everything done in a certain amount of time, plus you have that extra stressor of hockey on top of the school stuff.”

“So, I think that you know, going into my first season of pro, I won’t have that school factor. It will be just what I do with that time when I’m not at the rink. You know, just taking care of my body, making sure that I’m really proficient about doing extra things to make sure that I’m ready for the next day that comes. I’ll have to do those extra little things around the rink that I will have time for now. Doing some more video, vision stuff or whatever it may be. Just using those extra hours that I will have in a beneficial way to me and not getting caught up in other stuff.”

My last question for Kielly was about how he would describe his game to people who haven’t seen him play.

“That one is always a tough question for a goalie because it’s hard to self analyze a little bit, but I always try to just think of myself as a competitor with a solid technique and approach. I’m not really too focused on playing a certain style. Every day, you’ve just got to go out and stop the puck, that’s the goal of the game. I don’t like when bigger goalies are classified as blocking style goalies and smaller ones are defined as quick/reflex goalies. I just try to incorporate a little bit of everything into my game to be able to make saves each and every night.”

I enjoyed speaking with both young men and look forward to watching their careers develop going forward. I think that we will be seeing one of Kielly or DiPietro starting the year in the ECHL with the Kalamazoo Wings with some sort of rotation happening so that both can get regular playing minutes with Kalamazoo as well as seeing what they can do at the AHL level with the Comets.

At the end of the day, I feel like the Comets goaltending situation could be a good deal better this year after what was a less than ideal season last year due to injuries and a lack of suitable depth.

Oh…I had one last question for Jake and that was how to properly pronounce his last name. I have heard it pronounced “Keeley” and I have heard it pronounced “K-eye-ly.” It is the latter, folks. So think of it as though there is an “eye” in the middle.