by Islander Expert,
In 1980, when Bobby Nystrom scored that overtime goal and brought the New York Islanders their first of four Stanley Cups, it was more than just a franchise celebrating a victory. It was a whole community, jubilantly celebrating their championship. Legendary Islanders goaltender Billy Smith told reporters, "This is Long Island's Cup!"
It is true this team was Long Island's team. Made up of our friends and neighbors, fans could see these heroes in the deli at the corner or in a local restaurant after a game. These titans were not unreachable mega-stars, but the local boys who brought something special to Long Island. Even to this day it is not unlikely to walk into Nassau Coliseum and see Bobby Nystrom on the concourse, discussing hockey with some fans, or Clark Gillies laughing as he recalls the old days.
Now the Islanders have turned a corner and the year 2000 is full of promises and dreams. The team of the 90s, with the most unbelievable cast of characters owning the franchise has stumbled upon the recipe developed nearly 30 years ago. The Islanders have began to reunite themselves with the loyal fans who have stuck by them and cultivate the bright young faces of Long Island that are just discovering hockey. This talented young crew of Islanders seem ready to reach out. Leading the way is the NHL 2000 #1 draft pick, goalie Rick DiPietro.
DiPietro, who signed his first NHL contract for the rookie cap on July 25, wasted no time in acclimating himself to the community. It has been a busy week for the 18-year old goaltender from Boston University. Aside from holding a press conference and the media frenzy, which accompanied the announcement of the contract signing, this poised, confident, borderline cocky net minding phenom took the morning to record a feature for ESPN's "Cool Shots". DiPietro has also hosted an appearance at the Islanders team store in Hicksville to sign autographs, and anchored a hockey clinic for local youth ages 5 to 15. Is there any question of his ability to handle pressure?
When asked about the community relations aspect of his unique position, in respect to the clinic, Dipietro said, "I do clinics all the time back home." Adding, "I'll do anything the Islanders want me to do to help." This kind of attitude has been absent from the Islanders for far too long. Under the new ownership of Charles Wang and Sanjay Kumar, the Islanders realize it is key to rectify such past mistakes.
All of this spells only good news for the franchise. But can the kid play?
Well, just to mention a few of the achievements in DiPietro's early career, in 1999 he was named the Outstanding Goaltender of the World Junior Championships. He was also named the Hockey East Rookie of the Year and owns the NCAA record for the most saves in a single game (77). This New England NCAA Division 1 All-Star goaltender received honors as the division's Rookie of the Year, as well as MVP accolades. He also won the Elber Trophy, awarded to the top goalie of the Beanpot Tournament, which consists of the four major Boston-area hockey-playing colleges competing for the championship.
While there are no guarantees, this is only the surface of a very impressive goaltending resume exhibited by DiPietro. And being compared to such superb goaltenders as Ron Hextall or Martin Brodeur, who are also known for exceptional puck handling skills, only bodes well for his future in the NHL. In DiPietro, the Islanders have not only a phenomenal young goalie, but also an exceptional young man, cut from the same cloth of passion and pride that fostered a Dynasty.