When the Capitals took Thomas Di Pauli with the 100th pick overall of the NHL draft on Saturday in Pittsburgh, they knew they were getting a two-way center with a tireless work ethic.
What they may not have known was the long, difficult path Di Pauli took to get to Consol Energy Center, a journey that began in Italy, near the Austrian border.
Thats where Di Pauli and his older brother, Theo, were born and raised. They began playing hockey when Thomas was 3 and Theo was 4 and as their love for the game grew, so did the need to go somewhere their hockey skills could be nurtured.
So when Thomas was in seventh grade, he and Theo moved to Woodbridge, Illinois along with their mother, while their father, a financial consultant, remained in Italy.
My parents sacrificed a lot, Di Pauli said Saturday, moments after being taken by the Capitals with the 10th pick of the fourth round. My dad still has to travel back and forth because of his job. Im really appreciative of what theyve done.
Thomas and Theo were teammates on the Chicago Mission, a youth team in Illinois, until two years ago, when Thomas recorded 33 points in 38 games for the Mission and was invited to Ann Arbor, Mich., to try out for the USA Hockeys Under-17 team.
Di Pauli still recalls the day he was called into the coachs office and told he would be representing his new country.
It was incredible, he said. Even getting selected to the tryout camp was a huge honor. I remember driving in the car with my mom after I got picked. It was the first step toward accomplishing my dream.
The next step in fulfilling that dream came with the U.S. Development Program, where he carved a niche as a shut-down center who could contribute key goals. In 51 games last season, Di Pauli recorded 10 goals and 10 assists and emerged as one of his teams leaders.
Tommys just a warrior, said Team USA U-18 coach Danton Cole. He plays extremely hard. Hes a talented kid. Hes probably one of the best faceoff guys weve had come through and he can play the wing a little bit.
Hes just very tenacious. Hes the kind of kid you win championships with, thats probably the best thing you can say about him. He was very popular in our locker room because of how good a kid he is and how hard he works. You always say you want guys who care about their teammates success more than they do about themselves and thats the kind of kid Tommy is.
Ironically, one of Di Paulis teammates, Austin Wuthridge, was taken by the Capitals with the 107th pick of the draft and the two will remain teammates at the University of Notre Dame, where they are attending summer school together.
Di Pauli said he understands he is just one of 211 players selected by NHL teams over the weekend and that a very small percentage of those players will realize their dream of playing in the NHL. Still, he believes the road he took to get to Pittsburgh might give him a slight advantage.
At this point I think everybody has been working all their lives to get to this, he said. But I think Ive worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot of my high school life, being at the rink all day, finishing home and going right to the rink.
It all paid off on Saturday and Di Pauli says he owes it all to the selflessness of his parents.
It means the world to me, he said. Im absolutely a hundred percent grateful to them for giving me the opportunity to pursue my dreams that Ive always had. Without them I wouldnt be sitting here. I wouldnt be close to being where I am.