Ricky DiPietro: The Adventure Begins

By Jeff Morton
It was very quiet in the Olympic Arena at Lake Placid, New York on
Friday morning, the first official day of the New York Islanders’
training camp. One skater took the ice then another and so on until the
ice was full of players passing, shooting and getting their ice legs
back in order. I came all the way from Durham, New Hampshire late the
previous evening to see the number one draft pick take the ice to pass
or fail. As the players were filing in so too were the coaches, scouts
and various staff members from the Islanders organization presumably to
see the same player I had come to see. I recognized John Vanbiesbrouck,
Jason Krog and several others but no DiPietro. He was in the second
group so the anticipation had some time to mount. Soon the first group
was finished with their work out and off to the side ice sheet for a
scrimmage. About an hour later the second group began to file in. They
all looked the same, big and focused, distinguished only by different
colored sweaters, except for the goalies. Three or four goalies took
the ice and DiPietro stood out like a sore thumb. Brand spankin’ new
pads, glove, blocker, helmet, everything absolutely pristine. The other
goalies had marked up pads from several games of use. That was the only
difference though, Ricky DiPietro was the consummate professional. He
didn’t look nervous or excited, he just followed instructions,
participated and above all stopped pucks.

After the second group finished their on ice work out they headed over
to the side ice sheet for their scrimmage. DiPietro stopped shots,
played the puck, and barked directions and warnings to his teammates.
He is bold and forthright and has an extraordinary ability to take over
a game. He fired a couple of outlet passes, long range of course, to
surprised teammates expecting to have to come back for the puck. He did
let in one goal on a turnover in front of the net, every goalies
nightmare, but he shook it off and stopped everything else from then
on. Everyone in the arena seemed to be focusing on Ricky, the coaches,
the press, his teammates and the few fans that wandered in. The thing
that most impressed me was his poise. True, it was the first day of
training camp and some skills may be a little rusty, but so too should
Ricky’s. He played big, he acted like a pro and probably gave some of
the Islanders’ brain trust reason to rest a little easier.

Ricky is very aware of his situation, “You’ve got to realize that some
of the mistakes you make in college aren’t going to fly here”
he said
when asked about the differences between college and pro, “The guys are
faster and stronger and the puck could be right in front of you and then
in the back of the net before you know it”
DiPietro said. Asked about
being vocal on the ice, “As a goaltender you’re kind of the quarterback,
and the defensemen appreciate it when you look out for them, you don’t
want a defenseman getting run over because you don’t want them getting tired
or hurt then everyone suffers”
. I asked Ricky about playing with Beezer
and he spoke of Vanbiesbrouck with respect and admiration, “You have to
mention him with the best U.S. born goaltenders ever to play the game,
to sit next to him, to play a round of golf with him you learn so much,
you see how he conducts himself as a person and as a player”
. I asked
if he felt any pressure, “There’s obviously some pressure, I try not to
think about the pressure and you’ve got to realize that they let go of
some really great goaltenders so there is some pressure on me to be a
factor, I feel completely blessed to be in this situation, I look back
at the draft wondering where I would go and I can’t believe my
situation, it’s a dream come true”
.

I can’t be sure if Ricky will have an impact this year or not, only
because It’s not clear if he will be starting any games this season.
Vanbiesbrouck is the number one guy and probably should be, he’s a great
goalie, and he appears to still have it. If DiPietro does start some
games this season, It’s a sure bet that he will make an impact. The NHL
hasn’t seen a goalie with as much stick handling ability (Brodeur
aside), charisma, and fire, probably ever. I think Beezer said it best,
“You definitely don’t have to light a fire under his (DiPietro’s) tail,
and bringing enthusiasm like that to the table is encouraging, it’s what
this team needs, I like that about Rick”
. I think Islanders fans
everywhere are going to like that about Rick. He’s the guy you hate on
the other team but love on your team, like every great player.

Thanks to Jason Lagnese, Manager of Media Relations for the Islanders
for allowing me nearly unlimited access to the islanders and arranging
for me to speak with the players individually. Also to Paul Krepelka,
Rick DiPietro’s agent of Bob Wolf Associates for his help and patience.