Deloraine hockey hero, Don Dietrich, has passed away at the age of 59.
Dietrich was well known for his passion for the sport of hockey, which brought him into many arenas in his career as a professional hockey player, most notably with the Chicago Blackhawks and the New Jersey Devils.
Dietrich grew up in Deloraine and his fast action game landed him as defensemen with the Western Hockey League's Brandon Wheat Kings for three seasons, from 1978 to 1981, before embarking on a 10-year pro career with stints in the NHL, American Hockey League and in Europe.
After the 1990-91 season, Dietrich retired and by 1994 he and his family moved back to their hometown of Deloraine where he would assume a position with Canada Customs.
It would be only one year later, in his early 30’s, that he would be diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. In 1999 he would face more health struggles being diagnosed with an aggressive type of cancer called leiomyosarcoma. Treatment with an experimental drug was effective and he returned to his work at Canada Customs.
Another bout of cancer two years later would attack his liver, but once again, experimental treatment would work.
It was this week Tuesday morning when Don’s family shared his passing, with son Tristan posting the news on social media. “We are sad to announce that Don, Dad, Dins, Beaker passed away this morning peacefully," Tristan wrote. "He fought hard till the end. The ‘I can’ in him stayed true right till the end." The post includes Don’s wife Nadine, and sons Jacob and Nick.
The legacy of Don Dietrich speaks to the passion for his community, and his love for the game. Don never stopped giving back to both of his passions. He mentored the Deloraine Royals senior team, as well as the Southwest Cougars U18 AAA team. To help young players develop their skills on the ice, he started a breakfast club that met twice a week.
Dietrich was elected to the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame with the 1978-79 Western Hockey League champion Wheat Kings in 2007, followed by being inducted in the Builders category in 2011.
A highlight for Don was in 2015, when he was one of eleven people chosen to skate on an ice rink high up in the Rockies. "I filled out a sheet, like an essay type thing on what I would do for hockey," explained Don Dietrich. "With the help of my family, I won it. I was one of eleven people who were invited up to go on the rink that was built up there in the Rocky Mountains. The closest town was a resort by the name of Panorama, and it was on Shamrock lake about 9,200 feet up."
At the time, Dietrich stated it was a very touching experience, and upon coming over the crest of the mountain tears filled his eyes. "I can only explain it one way, and that would be to say if there was a Heaven on Earth, I've been there," shared the former New Jersey and Chicago Blackhawks player.
Don was one of the 100,000 Canadians who lived with Parkinson's, at that time in 2015, which he believed to be a helping factor in getting chosen for this experience.
You can read that story and listen to the inteview between Don and CJRB's Al Friesen which we retrieved from our CJRB archives:
Dietrich once said that he made $365,000 in 10 pro-hockey seasons, but the experiences his time in the game provided were priceless.