Eleven years ago, on December 1st, 2009, my wife Sheryl and I had taken our son Bradley out to dinner the night before his 4th birthday. As I pulled the car out of the parking lot and began to drive home, Sheryl received a phone call from her parents who had been shopping at a mall on Long Island.
“Did you know that Rick DiPietro was signing autographs at the Islanders store?”, my Mother-In-Law Gail asked Sheryl.
No, I didn’t know and I was pretty angry at myself because I was usually on top of those things. We had taken Bradley to a number of those Islanders autograph signings and always made sure he had his jersey on and had a puck or something else to get signed. But, without any Islanders apparel or souvenirs, we raced over to Broadway Mall in Hicksville to try and get to the signing before it was over.
When we arrived, we were told that the line was cut off because the time limit was approaching. However, Bradley was telling anyone who would listen that the next day was a special day and he really wanted to get Rick DiPietro’s autograph.
“Tomorrow is my fourth birthday,” said Bradley. “Tomorrow I’ll be four years old.”
Well, that was enough for the Islanders to extend the line by one almost four-year old.
As Bradley inched closer and closer to meeting DP, he continued to let everyone know that it was his birthday the next day. One Islanders employee heard this and came over to talk to him. She gave him one of the photos that they had for DiPietro to sign and wished Bradley a happy birthday. Again, I felt terrible that I didn’t know about this and that Bradley wasn’t in his jersey and didn’t have as much of a puck from his collection to have signed.
But this story has a happy ending…a really happy made in Islanders Country happy ending.
When it was his turn to meet DiPietro, Bradley handed the Islanders goalie the card that that the girl had given him and asked DP for his autograph. What happened next was something that our family will never forget and is one of many reasons why I seem to be in the minority when it comes to putting DiPietro’s Islander career into perspective.
“What’s your name?”, asked DiPietro and Bradley responded.
“Bradley, I heard that tomorrow is your birthday so I’m not going to sign this card for you.”
Say what? Bradley isn’t getting an autograph?
DiPietro, with a big smile on his face, got up from his chair at the table and walked over to a display that had mini hockey sticks. He grabbed a mini goalie stick and proceeded to sign it with a Sharpie and handed it to Bradley.
“Happy birthday,” said the first overall pick in the 2000 NHL Draft and then he posed for a photo with Bradley.
Bradley was so happy and couldn’t stop staring at the stick while my wife and I just looked at each other in amazement at what just happened. Tomorrow, December 2nd, Bradley will turn 15 years old and he still has that stick in his room. That night created a memory for him that you just can’t put a price tag on and to me, it’s still one of several reasons that you’ll never heard me say a bad word about the guy, despite how his career unfolded and ended.
Let’s talk about that career.
DiPietro played in 318 regular season games for the Islanders and had a record of 130-136 with 8 ties and 28 overtime/shootout losses during a career that was filled with various injuries. He had a 2.87 goals against average with 16 shutouts and guided the Islanders to playoff appearances in 2004 and 2007. He was named to the United States Olympic team in 2006 and an NHL All-Star in 2008.
That’s not a bad career, but DiPietro’s detractors will point to the fact that he didn’t live up to a 15-year $67.5 million contract and how the many injuries that DP suffered led the Islanders to buy him out of the remainder of the contract on July 1st, 2013. DiPietro tried a comeback with the Charlotte Checkers, the AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, but he was subsequently released and then he retired.
DiPietro, currently a host for ESPN Radio’s New York affiliate 98.7 FM, spent a few seasons as an analyst for Islanders telecasts on MSG Networks and I thought he was really good in that role. To me, he embraced being an Islander during his career which is something you can’t say about some other players. I always enjoyed talking to him in the locker room after covering games and it was also nice to see him be so good with the fans so many times after games at Champions in the Long Island Marriott after games. He was just one of those players who “got it” when it came to things like that.
But my lasting memory of Rick DiPietro’s career is not any one save that he made or any one game that he won for the Islanders. It was that night when he did something so special for my son and provided a moment that will last a lifetime. Bradley smiles every time I show him that photo of him and DP and I smile every time I see that stick hanging on the wall in Bradley’s room.
Rick DiPietro didn’t lead the Islanders to a Stanley Cup, but he was certainly a champion in the eyes of an almost four-year old.