By Ben Birnell
Posted Jan 9, 2020 at 10:19 PM
Utica Comets rookie goaltender Mike DiPietro is finding his footing on and off the ice in the Mohawk Valley. An East Utica family has even taken the 20-year-old under their wing.
UTICA — Mike DiPietro is the youngest player on the Comets’ roster.
Spend even a few minutes around the talented 20-year-old goaltender and it is easy to see DiPietro is also one of the most easygoing and affable players on the team.
Halfway into his first professional season as a top Vancouver Canucks prospect, DiPietro appears to be finding his footing both on and off the ice in the Mohawk Valley.
“I love it here in Utica. The people are phenomenal. I’m very grateful to be here,” said DiPietro, who is from Windsor, Ontario. “I always try to embrace the community that I’m in for whatever team I play. I just love meeting people.”
That mindset has led DiPietro to form what he considers a special friendship with the DeSarro family, which includes Alicia and her husband, Anthony, and their three kids. It doesn’t hurt that DiPietro and the DeSarros share proud Italian heritages.
“He’s been like a fourth kid,” said Alicia DeSarro, who holds a front office position as the Vice President of Corporate Partnerships for the Comets as well as Utica City Football Club. “He’s young and doesn’t have a family here. And I know how close he is with his family and how much he misses them that it is like a perfect fit.”
Through the family, he’s gotten a chance to experience the food and culture in the area. When he hasn’t been up with the Canucks – he’s had two stints with the NHL club and made a relief appearance – he has joined the East Utica family for dinners throughout this season. He’s carved pumpkins with 8-year-old Adrianna, 6-year-old Anthony and 5-year-old Alex and he’ll play the occasional game of hide-and-seek.
Who: Lehigh Valley Phantoms at Utica Comets.
When: 7 p.m. Friday.
Where: Adirondack Bank Center.
Broadcast: KROCK 94.9 FM; watchtheahl.com (subscription-based service).
Season series: Utica leads two-game series 1-0 following a 4-2 win Dec. 28 at Lehigh Valley.
Records: Lehigh Valley (13-18-1-4, 31 points, 7th in the Atlantic Division), Utica (21-12-2-2, 46 points, 2nd in the North Division).
Home cookin’?: The contest begins a season-long five-game homestand for the Comets. It is part of a stretch that includes seven of the next eight games at home.
“They absolutely love Mike,” DeSarro said. “They’re constantly asking ‘Is Mike coming over today?’ We don’t have that with other players. ... It is kind of refreshing to have that.”
DiPietro appreciates the Utica family’s willingness to help him navigate life away from the ice.
“For them to just welcome me into their home and to get to hang around the little ones and meet their family and friends has allowed me to feel more comfortable here,” DiPietro said. “I owe a lot to their family for welcoming me and making me feel at home. I really can’t say enough things about them.”
DiPietro remains close with his dad, Vic – he wears jersey No. 67 in honor of his birth year – and his stepmom and Skypes with them whenever he has cooking questions.
One of three goaltenders on the team with Zane McIntyre and Richard Bachman, DiPietro has quickly become a favorite among Comets fans and received loud cheers during pre-game introductions at a recent home game. DiPietro has been a quick study as he continues to make adjustments, including to the mental side of the game.
Entering Friday, DiPietro had a 9-5-1 record with a 2.72 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. He’s experienced a few bumps along the way, but he’s largely enjoying himself.
“At the end of the day, you’re playing hockey for a living,” DiPietro said with a smile. “It is something that I love to do. I love the fact that I can win games. I love the fact that I feel comfortable out there. I feel like I’m helping the team. I always want to be helping my team. It has certainly been a blast the first half. ... But, I always want to get better.”
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