VANCOUER, B.C. — It wasn't the NHL debut he imagined, but Mike DiPietro says starting in net for the Vancouver Canucks on Monday night was still a dream come true.
The San Jose Sharks (34-16-7) took no pity on the 19-year-old native of Amherstburg, Ont., testing him early and often en route to a 7-2 victory.
"Definitely not the ideal first game," DiPietro said. "But it's something I've dreamt about my entire life and to have the opportunity this young to do it, it's something that's positive for me, that I'll take as a learning experience."
As the game went on, the young netminder felt more comfortable and said he'll focus on the things he did right as he continues working on his game.
"When you focus on the negatives too much, you're going to feel like an ant in the net," he said.
The Canucks (25-25-7) called DiPietro up from the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's on an emergency basis last week after backup goalie Thatcher Demko was sidelined with a knee sprain.
The team doesn't currently have an American Hockey League goalie available to play in the NHL.
Jacob Markstrom, Vancouver's starting netminder, was slated to start on Monday but was scratched as a precaution due to tightness in his lower body.
"I felt like if we played him tonight, it would risk a longer injury that I didn't want him to turn into," Canucks coach Travis Green said after the game.
DiPietro stopped 17-of-24 shots and despite a rough start, he "hung in there and battled," Green said.
"I don't feel bad at all for putting him in the net. He's here, he's the backup. I didn't have another choice. That's who we had to play tonight," the coach said.
"I don't think he's upset that he played. I think he's pretty excited that he played."
Lining up against a team stacked with all-stars was a special experience, DiPietro said.
"It's pretty cool, taking a look up and seeing Joe Thornton and Pavelski right across the ice and shooting on me," he said. "Obviously when they score on you it's not too good. But I had to pinch myself and just stay in the moment."
Evander Kane scored twice for the Sharks, and Timo Meier, Melker Karlsson, Tomas Hertl, Kevin Lebanc and Joe Pavelski also put up goals.
Lebanc's tally came from a two-on-one where Joe Thornton drew DiPietro across the crease before dishing off to the right-winger.
The helper was the 1,050th of Thornton's career. He passed Gordie Howe for ninth place on the league's all-time assists list.
"That's an unbelievable accomplishment, unbelievable career, and that's something that should be really celebrated and I think our whole group and I are excited we were here to witness that," said Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. "Gordie Howe's career speaks for itself but when you get a guy like Joe Thornton that actually passes him on the assist list that is an amazing accomplishment."
Logan Couture said he's speechless over sharing a dressing room with someone who has passed a Howe milestone.
"It's pretty crazy," said the San Jose centre, who had a pair of assists. "(Thornton) is a special player, he's been a special player for two decades and I still believe that he is underrated. I still don't think he gets the credit he deserves for how world class a player he has been for two decades. Pretty special."
Thornton's assist was also the 39-year-old centre's 1,457th NHL point, tying Teemu Selanne for 15th place in the all-time points race.
Martin Jones had 25 saves for San Jose, who now sit in first place in the Western Conference thanks to a six-game win streak.
Bo Horvat and Derrick Pouliot scored for Vancouver.
The Canucks simply weren't good enough and gave up too many chances on Monday, Horvat said.
"I just don't think we came out hard enough," he said. "We tried to let the game come to us instead of taking it to them and it backfired on us."
Despite the result, the centre still had kind words for Vancouver's young goalie.
"It's not easy to come right from junior and play an NHL game. So kudos to him for stepping up there," Horvat said. "And honestly, I think he played a heck of a game. He made some unbelievable saves out there. We hung him out to dry for a lot of those goals and he had no chance on them."
The Canucks will be back in action on Wednesday, kicking off a three-game California road swing with a visit to the Anaheim Ducks.
The Sharks host the Washington Capitals on Thursday.
NOTES: Canucks forward Zack MacEwen also made his NHL debut on Monday night. The 22-year-old from Charlottetown took home a memento from the game after tallying his an assist on Pouliot's goal. ... Vancouver has placed centre Brandon Sutter on injured reserve with a lower body injury. ... Pavelski registered a helper on Meier's goal, marking his 400th NHL assist. ... San Jose defenceman Erik Karlsson missed Monday's game with a lower-body injury.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press