December 8, 2009

Baby steps for DiPietro

Rick DiPietro (photo: Dan Hickling)

There are few guarantees in hockey, with a notable exception being a 15-year mega-million dollar contract that still has more than a decade to run.

However, even all that ching can't keep goaltender Rick DiPietro (Winthrop, Mass.) healthy all by itself, or insure that he'll still be manning the New York Islanders’ goal crease when the last of those hefty checks lands in his bank account.

Which is why the oft-injured 28-year-old goalie will take any positive sign he can get, such as the one that came his way Saturday night in Bridgeport.

DiPietro is trying to get back into game shape after an 11-month layoff, one caused by surgery to repair the torn meniscus in his knee.

And while his 40-minute stint against the Springfield Falcons was hardly an artistic success – three goals allowed on just 10 Falcon shots – artistry was hardly the point. Seeing live pucks – what few that actually did come his way – was.

So was coming through that first test pain free.

And, on both those points, the former BU and Olympic standout was very pleased.

“You can't replicate that kind of stuff in practice,” said DiPietro, who admitted to having been both nervous and excited. “Those are the situations you only see in games, the scrambles around the net and all that other stuff. It was a big night for me. It was a chance to see how I was progressing.”

He didn't have much to go on in the first period as Springfield fired just three harmless pucks on him.

“We probably didn't help him out,” said Springfield center Bill Thomas, “not giving him many shots.”

Springfield put DiPietro to a stiffer test in the second period, putting seven shots on him. Three of those got past him, and the last two of those – by Geoff Paukovich and Thomas – were all but impossible to stop.

The first, however, a 45-foot floater by Johan Motin that slipped in between his pads, should probably not have gone in.

“Yeah, it pinballed around me a little bit,” DiPietro admitted. “Would I liked to have played better? Probably. But what can you do? It was the first time I was out there. We're going to get better each time I have an opportunity to get out there. This is probably just the first step.”

Step No. 2 will likely come this weekend, either Friday at Springfield or Saturday at Hartford.

No guarantees, though.

Around the AHL

The goal scored by Motin against DiPietro was just the second tally notched by a Springfield defenseman all season. The other was by veteran Chris Armstrong, who was signed to a standard AHL pact by the Falcons after his 25-game PTO had expired. “We'd love to have our defense score more,” said Springfield coach Rob Daum. “But that's not their forte. The situation may be helped with the return of young prospect Taylor Chorney, who has above average offensive chops. ... On Sunday, the Worcester Sharks commemorated the 10th anniversary of a disastrous fire in that city that claimed the lives of six firefighters, before and during their clash with the Portland Pirates. Sharks goalie Alex Stalock wore a specially designed “W6” mask that featured the names of the fallen men, which is being auctioned off to benefit the Worcester Fire Scholarship fund and the Shriners Hospital for Children. Bids are being received through Wednesday via Hockey fans of all allegiances are urged to participate.

Dan Hickling can be reached at