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"In the Summer, Hockey Took a Back Seat."

By Mitchell Machtinger, 06/19/19, 1:15PM EDT


Two OMHA grads named to Canadian Junior National Team

Photo Credit: Baseball Canada

Chris Drury famously won a Little League World Series the same year as his hockey team won a Peewee championship. Jarome Iginla was an all-star catcher while leading the Alberta Midget Hockey League in scoring. Kyler Murray, the first overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, played on the football and baseball teams with the Oklahoma Sooners. Players can have a passion for and excel in multiple sports if given the opportunity.

Two OMHA grads, Owen Diodati (Niagara Falls) and Keegan Pulford-Thorpe (Newmarket) are battling for spots on baseball’s Canadian Junior National Team. Having actually played against each other on the ice, the two are now teammates on the diamond. The pair have similar stories. Both were selected in the middle rounds of the 2017 OHL Draft. Both had participated in Tournament 12, the national amateur baseball tournament held annually at Rogers Centre. Both had good showings at their club’s training camps. But when the call came with an invitation to be a member of the Junior National Team, it was time for a decision on which sport would become the primary focus.

Both opted for baseball. It paid off with selections in the MLB Draft, Pulford-Thorpe to the San Diego Padres and Diodati to the Toronto Blue Jays. Not many can say they’ve been drafted in two different sports.

It was a lot of work for Diodati to play two sports but he thinks it helped him become better in both. He admits the break between the two helped prevent burnout but still tried to go out on the ice once or twice a week in the summer just to stay into it.

“In the winter, baseball took a back seat and in the summer hockey took a back seat. I tried to do as much as I could hockey-wise in the summer and as much as I could baseball-wise in the winter. I honestly didn’t feel any more behind, at least at that age, by playing a second sport,” said Diodati. “If anything, I came back fresher than everyone else who was skating all summer or a guy that was throwing all winter. It was really good for me to get a break from one and go to the other.”

Diodati found a balance of athleticism between the activities, with a more cardio-based and quickness focus in hockey and baseball offered a more strength-based program.

“Learning how your body moves on the ice and off the ice. Different training methods you can learn. Different movements, being athletic. Being able to play all sports, pick up a sport and be able to play and compete in it. I think that’s huge,” echoed Pulford-Thorpe. “Playing one sport is great, you can focus on it, but the more sports you play, I feel the more well-rounded you get. You can improve areas of weakness just being active... Getting off the skates sometimes almost is the best thing. Kind of reset, relax and getting back on the ice, you learn how to be physical, take a hit, stop and start quick, how to use your body and create torque. I find that completely translates. Hitting a baseball, taking a slapshot, a lot of rotational movements, make sure your body is getting proper torque. You’re on different surfaces so your body learns to adapt to different changes.”

“I think in hockey, my hand-eye coordination was always so good from baseball just because in baseball, hitting is 90 percent hand-eye coordination. That definitely helped me on the ice. It went the other way too,” said Diodati. “Skating and the agility aspect and explosiveness really helped me on the baseball field too, whether it be running or playing in the field. Any aspect, all the tools that it takes to be an athlete can’t just be developed in one sport. Along with hockey helping me in baseball and baseball helping me in hockey, playing other sports in school, I played as many sports as I could just because I loved them and I think it was really critical in my development as an athlete.”

“In the winter, baseball took a back seat and in the summer hockey took a back seat... I honestly didn’t feel any more behind, at least at that age, by playing a second sport.”

There was some overlap towards the end of one sport’s season and the start of the other. Each would try to make as many practices and games of the sports as they could and whichever activity was still in-season would get priority. Hockey ran roughly from September to April, with indoor baseball practices starting around January. It was around the final months of the hockey season that baseball would start moving outdoors and the schedules became even busier.

As Diodati is a catcher and Pulford-Thorpe is a pitcher, the duo have more in common than just their hockey experience. Pulford-Thorpe compares their relationship to a defensive pairing, knowing the tendencies and what each player is thinking at certain points of the game. He describes his battery mate as a tough player who’s hard to get out and also one of his favourite catchers to throw to. Diodati says his lefty pitcher has good off-speed pitches and throws hard.

Playing minor hockey gave Pulford-Thorpe leadership opportunities that he’s carried over to the dugout. He learned about competition, accountability and being part of a team. Looking back on it now, he says he wishes he had appreciated the time even more. Diodati credits the sport for helping him grow up and value the friendships he still holds close to him.

The two are heading down south for the summer – Diodati to the University of Alabama for finance and Pulford-Thorpe to the University of Central Florida for chemistry – to take some courses and team training before leaving for South Korea and Australia with the Junior National Team’s World Championships training camp. Pulford-Thorpe is hoping to play for the Central Florida club hockey team, if allowed.


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Mitchell Machtinger is the Coordinator of Communications at the OMHA. He's worked with various sport organizations and is an avid fan of all sports.

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