Phil Di Giuseppe has been confident in his decision to go the college route from the start and the decision is appearing to pay dividends.
Di Giuseppe, who has 25 points in 37 games for the University of Michigan, cites the two major differences between the NCAA and the OHL made his decision a no-brainer.
“The biggest [reason] is the strength difference compared to juniors so preparing for the NHL strength wise the college route is better so that’s why I chose to come and develop [through the college game],” Di Giuseppe said. “The speed is another big difference; everyone can skate in Division I hockey.”
The transition for Di Giuseppe was an easy one as Michigan head coach Red Berenson paired the then 17-year-old with juniors Chris Brown and A.J. Treais on the first line. Di Giuseppe had a huge opening month to start his college career with five goals and four assists Michigan’s first eight games.
“I didn’t expect to be playing as much as I did coming in considering the run they made last year,” said Di Giuseppe, who joined a group of nine forwards who were a part of last year’s National Championship run. “I just came in and tried to work as hard as I could and it kind of came through for me.”
November was a rough patch for both Di Giuseppe and his Wolverines. Michigan struggled as they won just one of their eight November games, dropping the team from No. 3 in the National polls to19th. In those same eight games, Di Giuseppe cooled as he had just three points.
Wolverine fans were also sent into a panic in November as the Ontario Hockey League rights to Di Giuseppe’s were traded from the Niagara IceDogs to the Windsor Spitfires. Many read into the trade that Di Giuseppe may have been on the move from Ann Arbor to Windsor.
Di Giuseppe explained that he has never talked to Spitfires’ GM Warren Rychel before and has no interest in doing so now.
“I didn’t even find out that my rights were traded until a week or so after,” Di Giuseppe said. “I was a little bit surprised and I haven’t talked to anyone on the Windsor staff yet.”
Things began to turn for Di Giuseppe in December as the six-foot-one winger was one of four first-year draft eligible players to receive an invite to their World Junior selection camp in December.
Despite being the youngest forward at camp, Di Giuseppe showed he was worthy of an invite as he lead the selection camp in points with one goal and two assists in the two intra-squad games. Even with the three-point effort, Di Giuseppe did not survive the final cut.
“There were a lot of great players and a lot of players who have already been drafted and went in the first or second round so being able to make it to the last cut was a great accomplishment for me and definitely boosted my confidence,” said Di Giuseppe, eligible to try out again next year.
The camp brought a lot of attention to Di Giuseppe as well. Though he was the only first-year draft eligible forwards in camp, Di Giuseppe didn’t bring that back to Michigan.
Instead, Di Giuseppe has instead used his skills in the second-half of the season to help Michigan regain a spot in the top-5 of the USCHO poll.
In fact, Di Giuseppe has tuned out draft talks and remains focused on helping Michigan return to the National Championship game. Michigan received a first round bye in the CCHA league playoffs and swept Notre Dame in this weekend’s CCHA quarterfinals.
Di Giuseppe had a huge weekend scoring the game-winning goal in game two and had an assist both games.
Both in the CCHA playoffs and in the NCAA tournament, Michigan’s playoff success will now be determined by single game playoffs. Michigan will play Bowling Green in the CCHA semifinals on Friday at Joe Louis Arena.
If victorious, Michigan will then play for the CCHA Tournament Championship the following night. Looking ahead, the freshman is confident in his team’s chances in single elimination games.
“[Last year’s team] was successful last year making it to the National Championship game,” Di Giuseppe said. “Everyone who came back knows what it takes to win every single game.”
If Michigan’s transition to single elimination games is as easy as Di Giuseppe’s transition to college hockey this year, Michigan could be in for quite the ride in March and April.