At this point, it’s hard to discern how Rick DiPietro is really feeling. In a story that has already gone through the meat-grinder of Twitter and out the other end, the recently-waived New York Islanders goalie either revealed that he had suicidal thoughts during his struggles on Long Island or made a dark joke about his litany of injuries and dealings with fans who had turned on him. Feel free to judge for yourself.
I spoke with DiPietro several weeks ago in Toronto and when the topic of his injuries and subsequent physical rehab came up, his tone did become a lot more serious than his usual peppy self. How did he cope mentally with all that stress, I asked?
“I attribute that mostly to my wife,” DiPietro said. “I’ve had a rough couple of years. There’s been some really dark times, really tough times. If it wasn’t for her I’m not sure what would have happened. She keeps me positive, she keeps me working hard and fighting and gives me the strength to battle through.”
DiPietro is in Bridgeport now, with the American League’s Sound Tigers. But even when he was the backup with New York, DiPietro was an energetic presence in the Islanders room and I’ll always remember him knowing all the lyrics to the Saturday Night Live song “I’m on a Boat,” as he sang it after an Isles victory over the Leafs a few years ago.
“You can’t fault him for his effort, his attitude or his work ethic,” said star center John Tavares. “He’s always been one of the best guys in the room. We’re proud of Ricky.”
Ask his teammates and they’ll tell you DiPietro was always there for them. On the ice, he would stay after practice with Tavares when the fellow No. 1 pick overall was finding his footing in New York, giving JT scouting reports on enemy goaltenders and facing extra shots. Back in the room, DiPietro would find fun ways to shake things up, like suggesting the whole team get mohawks.
“We got a bunch of guys,” DiPietro said. “Some guys were a little too attached to their hair, but it was good. I remember one year I painted my face like Braveheart and came in with a sword. I just like to come up with ways to keep the guys loose and happy all the time.”
When we spoke, DiPietro had yet to play his first game of the season.
“I’m like a kid waiting for Christmas,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited.”
After three starts this season – all losses – DiPietro was waived by the only NHL team he’s known, the franchise he told me he wanted to play his entire career for. When his infamous 15-year contract was signed in 2006, it was easy to make fun of the team that had signed it and to direct a good amount of sour grapes at the player in line to receive the $67.5 million that came with the deal. But his cap hit is just $4.5 million and it’s pretty clear now that DiPietro intended to honor all 15 years of the contract on Long Island.
“We obviously support him,” said right winger Kyle Okposo. “He’s had a rough time with injuries and he’s trying to get back to his former self. We’re behind him 100 percent. He knows and we know what the critics say, but we know what he’s like in the room.”
Ryan Kennedy, the co-author of Young Guns II, is THN's associate senior writer and a regular contributor to THN.com. His column appears Wednesdays and The Hot List appears Tuesdays. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRyanKennedy.