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Monday, April 15, 2024
Sports: Defenceman Kaleb Dietsch making an impression with Ottawa 67’s
Ottawa 67’s assistant coach Paul Stoykewych, left, has high praise for his team’s defence prospect Kaleb Dietsch, right. TIM AUSTEN/ OTTAWA 67’S

NOTL native works out and practises with OHL club daily


A year ago at this time, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s Kaleb Dietsch was winding up his minor hockey career and preparing with his AAA team the Southern Tier Admirals to play in the prestigious OHL Cup showcase tourney.

As a 16-year-old, he also was hoping he’d be drafted by an Ontario Hockey League team and have a shot at playing top-level junior hockey.

Fast-forward 12 months and Dietsch now lives in the nation’s capital where he’s been taken under wing by the Ottawa 67’s, who see a bright future for the lanky 6 foot 2 defenceman, whom they drafted last spring.

After training camp in September, Dietsch was assigned to the Ottawa Junior Senators of the Central Canada Hockey League where the 67’s hoped he’d gain experience and develop his game.

That all went smoothly. In fact, it went so well that in January, 67’s management decided Dietsch should spend the rest of the year with the main club.

So, for the past two months, he has been rostered with the 67’s — living and breathing the major junior dream, training, practising and working out with the big boys, waiting for his chance to shine.

The playoffs start Friday, March 28, with the 67’s on the road facing off against the Brantford Bulldogs in a seven-game series.

So, Dietsch, who turned 17 in January, has to be prepared to step in to the lineup at any time, something assistant coach Paul Stoykewych is confident he is ready to do.

While he’s only seen action in a handful of league games so far, Stoykewych is full of praise for his young defender.

When called upon to compete, “Kaleb has stepped right in and influenced the game. He has proven that he can play and it’s really exciting to see,” Stoykewych said in an interview.

And now that he’s part of the main club, “he’s made some huge strides in his development.”

Along with a few other young players, Dietsch is “on a predetermined plan now, off-ice and you can see direct results, with Kaleb putting on some extreme strength. His mass, his physical stature is already noticeably different.”

He works out and practises with the team, “with the skill development guys and he’s getting one on one time with myself and the rest of the coaching staff,” Stoykewych said in an interview.

In practice, “We’re challenging him to go up against top-end players all the time, so when he does get put in that position in the game, he knows the pace, he knows the physicality,” he said.

“He’s really accepted that challenge and I give him full credit. He’s an incredible young man and his attitude has been phenomenal throughout this time,” said Stoykewych.

Everyone wants to be playing and he acknowledges it can be tough on a young player who’s waiting for his chance to get into more games.

But that’s also the reality for most first-year players in the OHL.

For his part, Dietsch says he’s loving the structure and routine provided by the 67’s.

Since last fall, he’s been immersed in junior hockey and only returned home to NOTL to visit proud parents Paul and Natasha and older brother Liam over the Christmas break.

In Ottawa, “I’m always doing something. The days are jam-packed,” he said in an interview.

Most days start pretty early. Up at 6 a.m., out the door by 6:45, a team meeting at 7:30, hit the ice by 8:30 till 10 or 10:30, and then off to school until 4 p.m.

“And then right after school, we head back to the rink and work out, which is usually about an hour, and I get home around 6.”

Tiring? Yes, but he’s committed to it. While he rested up a bit more over March Break, he was careful not to mess up his sleep schedule.

On the ice, the biggest difference from Tier II and his years of minor hockey prior to that is the intensity of the game and the speed at which decisions have to be made. The game gets faster at each step up the competitive ladder.

Teams like the 67’s employ a lot of systems, so while you might know where your teammates are supposed to be in any given situation, the mental part of the game becomes more and more important.

Dietsch is embracing it and sees how he has progressed.

Being challenged “really helps me to think about how much more work I’m going to have to put in to become one of the better guys on the team. It really just shows how hard it is.”

In major junior hockey, there are few guarantees.

While Dietsch hopes to be a regular on the 67’s blueline next fall and maybe even during this year’s playoffs, he knows it is crucial to stay focused, keep working and continue developing.

“I’m trying to get better and so is everybody else. It’s a matter of who wants it more.”

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