Elite 6-foot-2 defenceman ‘can do it all,’ his Niagara coach says
It’s been a remarkable year for Niagara-on-the-Lake hockey player Kaleb Dietsch.
The 6-foot-2 defenceman earned an invitation to Team Ontario’s tryout camp last fall, was runner-up with his team in a hard-fought Ontario Minor Hockey Association championship final and competed with some of the top AAA teams in the prestigious OHL Cup showcase tourney two weeks ago.
And this weekend in Oshawa he’ll get to show his stuff at the OHL under-16 combine, where general managers and scouts will be eyeing players for next week’s junior draft.
Dietsch is one of just 24 defencemen invited to the combine, where players’ skills on and off the ice are scrutinized.
Yes, it’s been a memorable year and it’s not over yet.
Just turned 16, Dietsch spent this season competing with Niagara’s Southern Tier Admirals AAA team – playing minor hockey at its highest level.
The U16 year (formerly minor midget) is a big season for players with dreams of playing major junior hockey or – eventually – at the pro level.
It’s their junior draft year and OHL scouts attend many of their games and tournaments, trying to find the players who will fill their teams’ future needs.
The even-tempered young Dietsch takes it all in stride. He’s confident in his skills but knows he still has lots of work to do.
“My ultimate goals are to get drafted, to make the starting lineup and to keep improving my game,” he says in an interview.
The lanky lockdown defenceman, whose role with the Admirals was often to go up against his opponents’ most dangerous scorers, recognizes that, if he’s drafted, making it onto the roster of an OHL team next fall could be a long shot.
But he’s committed to do what is necessary to get bigger, better and stronger.
Kevin Rosebrugh, his coach for the past two years with the Admirals, has high praise for his young D-man.
“He’s a really good kid. He had a tremendous start to the season and was one of the best defencemen at the Silver Stick tournament in Whitby in November,” he says in an interview.
He figures that performance is what earned Dietsch the invite to the Team Ontario camp prior to the Canada Winter Games.
He didn’t make the team but that just inspired him to work harder, Rosebrugh says.
“I think he can do it all, really. He’s just a terrific defender. He has a really good stick. He gaps well, he turns pucks over defensively, wins a lot of board stuff. He makes good first passes,” he says.
“And I think he’ll have more offensive stuff to his game as he grows and gets older.”
Most OHL scouts see Dietsch as a “shutdown defenceman, a defensive guy that can also make plays with the puck,” Rosebrugh added.
And as he gets stronger and adds to his 177-pound frame, he’ll only get better and even tougher to play against, he says.
If Dietsch is not in the OHL next season, he could play provincial junior or junior B. That remains to be seen. The Erie Otters have the number 1 pick and the Niagara IceDogs choose second in the April 21-22 draft.
Sitting at a quiet table at the Sand Trap in NOTL, with his proud parents Natasha and Paul (who co-owns the pub with his brother Matt), the family is looking forward to what the future might hold.
Kaleb started skating about age 3, so they’ve spent almost 15 years travelling to games and tournaments all over the province with him and his older brother Liam, also a talented AAA defenceman.
Dad Paul says Kaleb has worked hard to get where he is – and having a big brother to look up to sure didn’t hurt.
“Our job as parents so far is just to keep him level-headed and motivated, although he doesn’t need a lot of help. I find him to be extremely motivated, to be honest,” says Paul.
The younger Dietsch says playing in the OHL Cup March 29 to April 3 was “a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Though the Admirals had a tough draw and lost all four of their games, “We felt it was a good competition, really fast-paced” and a great opportunity to face off against some of the premiere hockey talent in the country.
The Admirals got to the OHL Cup by being runner-up to the Peterborough Petes (who ended up as semifinalists at the showcase). And Southern Tier came oh-so-close in that OMHA final, losing 1-0 to the Petes in triple overtime – so they know they can compete with the best.
Dietsch has fond memories of his days playing in the NOTL Minor Hockey Association. While he’s moved on to the elite level, the Holy Cross Secondary student still hangs out and plays pickup games (and lacrosse) with his buddies from town.
And he credits some of his NOTL coaches with helping instil in him the love of the game, mentioning Glen Davis, Trevor Falk, Darren Rossi and Sam Steinbachs among some memorable early influencers.
He wears #4, a coveted jersey for defenders.
Besides the whole Bobby Orr aura, growing up and wanting to follow in the footsteps of Liam, 18, he eventually adopted #4.
Both boys are also talented lacrosse players and hope to play junior in St. Catharines this summer.
He praises all his past coaches for giving him the confidence to go further in hockey – and the Admirals staff this year “who helped push us to our fullest potential.”
Looking back, if there’s one memorable milestone that helped him realize he might be able excel at the game, he says it happened around age 10.
“It was the major atom year when I was playing for the NOTL Wolves and I was called up to play a few games for the older age group that my brother played on,” he says. He fit right in and he enjoyed the experience.
And later that year, he was inspired after he and his teammates skated with the world junior team at the Gretzky outdoor rink.
Hockey will always remain fun and enjoyable, especially when he’s on the ice with his buddies. But when he’s competing, it’s all business, he says.
“When the puck drops, it’s game time. I have no outside distractions and I’m only thinking about getting a big W for the team.”