For nearly three full seasons, Michael Di Puma came to work everyday for the Wenatchee Wild. His persistence and dedication paid off last week when he committed to the University of North Dakota, one of the top Division I programs in the country.
North Dakota had been Di Puma’s No. 1 choice for the next portion of his hockey career for years.
“They're always just a top team and have a top facility,” Di Puma said of the Fighting Sioux, which play in the state-of-the-art Ralph Engelstad Arena. “They just seem like the type of team you’d want to play for.”
The Fighting Sioux have won seven NCAA national titles. Under the direction of Dave Hakstol, who just completed his seventh season as head coach, the Sioux have made five Frozen Four appearances, including this past season.
“North Dakota is one of the premier college hockey programs in the nation,” said Wild assistant coach Chris Clark. “Year in and year out, they’re up there with the best of the best.”
A native of Chicago, Di Puma put on a Wild sweater for the first time on Jan. 7, 2009. He scored a pair of goals in his debut that night - a 6-2 win over the Kenai River Brown Bears at the Town Toyota Center. Di Puma went on to compete in two Robertson Cup Championship Tournaments with the Wild and become the organization’s all-time regular-season leader in games played (134), goals (54) and points (107).
“Mike stayed in Wenatchee for three years and did all the necessary things it took to get to the next level, not just on the ice, but off it, too,” Clark said. “Mike is the perfect example that you can get into the top schools from here.”
Undecided on a major, Di Puma plans to remain in Wenatchee this summer before leaving for North Dakota.
“I absolutely love Wenatchee,” Di Puma said. “It’s definitely a home away from home. The relationships you develop here are unbelievable, and the fans are just awesome. (Wenatchee) is a place you can definitely move on from, and it’ll prepare you for what you want to move on to.”
Relieved that his future is now set, Di Puma knows the next stage of his hockey career is just beginning.
“It’s not over now that I’m committed; this is where the hard work begins," he said. "I’m concentrating on getting (to North Dakota) and getting a spot. They contend almost every year, and I just want to try to put myself in a position to be the best help I can be to the team.”