TORONTO — Between a mid-season trade, heartbreak at the world junior championship and a disappointing NHL debut with the Vancouver Canucks, Mikey DiPietro hasn't had many reasons to smile this season.
But an Ontario Hockey League championship and a run to the Memorial Cup can help change some of those feelings.
The 19-year-old netminder helped lead the Ottawa 67's to a sweep of the Hamilton Bulldogs in the first round of the OHL playoffs. Now turns his attention to the Sudbury Wolves, with their second-round series beginning Friday.
"'I've never won a playoff series until this past one against Hamilton. I'm very happy now that I have a series win under my belt," said DiPietro.
"Everything is coming together at the right time. Season's been broken up quite a few times this year, because of travel, trade, world juniors, time with Canucks, right there there's probably 10 to 12 starts I missed. It gets you out of your routine but I feel great about my game, how I'm reading the play."
DiPietro will be facing a familiar foe on the Wolves in goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonnen, who was in net for Finland's 2-1 quarterfinal victory that pushed Canada out of medal contention this past January at the world junior championship.
"That's been on my mind but it's not about me," the Amherstberg, Ont., native said. "It's not about Luukkonnen or myself. It's about two teams going at it. At the end of the day all that matters in playoffs in winning."
The 2018-19 seasons is one DiPietro calls a "whirlwind."
After starting his junior career in 2015 with the Windsor Spitfires, a team he watched win the 2009 Memorial Cup as a 10-year-old kid before winning one of his own in 2017 as the host team, DiPietro was shipped to Ottawa in early December after three and a half seasons.
He was barely introduced to his new teammates, playing just one game before heading out for world junior camp soon after. He was gone a month before eventually returning to the 67's, only to be called up by the Vancouver Canucks as an emergency in February for two weeks — a stint that included being hung out to dry in a 7-2 loss against San Jose in his debut.
"I think I had a week to get everything done before leaving for world junior camp, and it seemed there was one thing after another that inhibited me to properly settle in and get in my routine," said DiPietro.
"The (67's) organization has done a lot for me to give me the time needed just to breathe. With the call to Vancouver, it kind of threw me for a whirl as well, broke up my time a bit here... I'm a man of habit."
The way Canada bowed out of the world juniors still weighs on DiPietro's mind, but has allowed him to grow as a player.
A deflection off a skate tied the game with 46 seconds to play in regulation, then the Finns, who went on to claim gold, scored the winning goal in transition in overtime after Canada's Cody Glass had his stick break in the Finnish end on a scoring attempt.
"It's been a year of adversity for myself, I feel I've lost a lot, at the world juniors the way we did. For me it was a year I really learned a lot about myself, what I can work on and improve on, but also what I like about myself too."
DiPietro chose to delete his social media accounts following the tournament and has felt a sense of freedom without it being in his life.
He says the criticism thrown his way online he could tolerate, but what was said to Canada captain Maxime Comtois after failing to score on a penalty shot in overtime was too much.
"I find I lost a lot of sleep scrolling, to be honest it was a waste of time for me," said DiPietro. "I'm my toughest critic, but what capped it off for me was what happened to my captain Max, for people to come at a teenager on social media..."
DiPietro, the 2018 OHL goalie of the year, played 17 regular-season games with Ottawa, going 12-4-0 with a 2.51 goals-against average with an .897 save percentage.
Despite the ebbs and flows, he set a new all-time OHL record for shutouts in January with his 17th, and added two more down the stretch. He celebrated setting the new mark the only way he knows.
"I grabbed the puck, worked out after game, drove back to my billets and sat down and watched Scooby Doo. I'm a big kid."
The Oshawa Generals face the Niagara IceDogs in the OHL's other Eastern Conference second-round matchup, while the West will see the London Knights against the Guelph Storm and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds versus the Saginaw Spirit.
The Western Hockey League and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League also begin second-round action on Friday.
Kyle Cicerella, The Canadian Press