DiPietro Following the Right Road By John Wiedeman (Oct. 16) One thing is certain about the Islanders goaltending duo of Chris Osgood and Garth Snow: both knowMessage 1 of 2 , Oct 16, 2002View SourceDiPietro Following the Right Road
By John Wiedeman
(Oct. 16) One thing is certain about the Islanders goaltending duo of
Chris Osgood and Garth Snow: both know they're playing the most
difficult position to master in the game of hockey. It's also safe to
say that both took their time developing their skills at a level
beneath the NHL in the American Hockey League.
Osgood tended goal in Glens Falls, NY (Adirondack Red Wings) in the
Detroit organization in his first season out of the Western Hockey
League as a 20-year old. Snow played much of two seasons for the
Cornwall (Ontario) Aces who at the time were affiliated with the
Quebec Nordiques organization before being dealt to the Philadelphia
The minors can be difficult at times, especially for a young player.
But the experience helps to form an inner toughness that is
invaluable later in a hockey player's career. After last year's 42-
win season, Islander fans are expecting more solid goaltending from
the duo and, health permitting, it's a good bet that they'll deliver.
But across the Long Island Sound over in Bridgeport, CT, former #1
overall draft pick Rick DiPietro is working at improving his game on
a daily basis, while patiently or impatiently waiting for a call.
After seeing teammates Raffi Torres and Justin Mapletoft get that
call only one week into the season, DiPietro had to be wondering when
his phone would ring with the same news.
Truthfully, if you look at the development of some of the NHL's top
goaltenders, DiPietro's call to regular duty at the NHL level is
right on schedule. Forget the fact he was the top pick in the 2000
NHL Draft, the bottom line is that a goaltender's maturation takes
longer than your average forward or defenseman.
Ed Belfour and Curtis Joseph plied their trades in the now defunct
IHL before becoming NHL stars. And nearly every goaltender that has
been consistently successful in the NHL has built the foundation in
As recently as the 2000-01 season, Montreal Canadiens goalie Jose
Theodore, the reigning Hart Trophy winner, was playing for the Quebec
Citadelles of the AHL. He started that season by winning three-
straight games in Quebec, and then he was recalled by Montreal for
good and posted respectable numbers.
Last season, Montreal would most assuredly have missed the Stanley
Cup Playoffs without Theodore's remarkable efforts. Most also don't
know that Theodore spent more than just one full season in the AHL
working on his game. For the record, Theodore played most of the 1996-
97 and 1997-98 seasons in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the Habs' AHL
home at the time. Then, after spending all of the 1999-2000 season
with the Canadiens as a backup, he was sent down to Quebec City to
begin the season. The thoughts going through Theodore's mind for all
those seasons had to be very similar to what might be going though
DiPietro's mind right now.
Islanders Goaltending Coach Billy Smith played parts of two seasons
in the AHL in Springfield, MA. At the time, the Springfield Kings
were the affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings. Smith caught the break
of his life when the Islanders chose him in the expansion draft in
June of 1972. He went on to win four Stanley Cups, countless team
awards and has a retired jersey hanging from the Nassau Coliseum
DiPietro has undeniable talent and a level of confidence that many
mistake for cockiness. But for a goaltender to succeed regularly at
the NHL level, he's got to have that rare combination of moxy, talent
and a feeling of total control in the goal crease. For all of his
attributes, what DiPietro might not be able to do at this point in
his career is understand the value of the experience with the Sound
Being a #1 goalie in the AHL might seem like a punishment or demotion
to some. It can feel like being a planet away from the NHL. But any
NHL regulars (goalies or otherwise) who have had the opportunity to
compete in the AHL will readily sing the praises of the top
developmental hockey league on this planet.
NHL shooters are unforgiving of goaltenders. What most goalies
probably don't think about is the fact that when a goaltender is
rushed to the NHL and then fails, he might be done for good. Second
chances are rare for goaltenders because their failure at the NHL
level is usually associated with a loss of confidence. For
goaltenders, confidence is a fragile commodity that can be easily
lost and sometimes never regained. A goaltender's head can be his
best friend or his worst enemy.
The longer DiPietro succeeds at the AHL level with Bridgeport, the
greater the foundation of confidence he will have built up for tough
times that seem to be part and parcel to the position at the NHL
level. He'll need a fortress of it for the night when he is in goal
for that inevitable shellacking he'll receive but didn't deserve
because his teammates let him down. He'll need it for the time when
he's suffering through an injury-filled season that never seems to
end and has him worried about his own future in the next season and
his family's future down the road. He'll need it for the time he
suffers through a losing streak and privately doubts his own ability
to rise above it.
But if any or all of this happens, he'll need that extra level of
confidence that comes from playing enough professional hockey to know
that things can only get better if he just works a little harder. In
tough times, he'll need to remember the successful season in
Bridgeport where he posted a 30-22-7 regular season record, followed
by a playoff mark of 12-8.
He'll need to remember how he elevated his game and what he did to
help put the Sound Tigers in position to challenge for the Calder Cup
in 2002. He'll need to remember all of the advice that the great
Billy Smith lent him that he found helpful, so that he could become a
#1 NHL goalie.
And then he'll need to think about life outside of professional
hockey for a moment: the kind of life that most hockey fans in this
world live, but would trade in a heartbeat for the opportunity Rick
Time will tell whether DiPietro is the real deal at the NHL level,
but his current AHL experience can only help him for the long run in
what could turn out to be a memorable career.
In my last column, I promised to give you good folks my impressions
of the netting (I've seen) around the NHL rinks and so far I've only
been in 5 NHL buildings. I'll see the rest of them sometime this
season but here are my thoughts, beginning with Nassau Coliseum.
The netting at Nassau Coliseum compares to that of the First Union
Center in Philadelphia and the HSBC Arena in Buffalo. The netting
begins just below the top of the glass and extends all the way up to
the bottom of the building's speakers. It's clear that nobody in the
end zones will be affected by flying pucks and can watch the game
without fear of being struck. I sat with my wife for two periods of
the Islanders-Flyers preseason game in one end zone and had no
trouble following the puck until it went into the opposite end of the
Truthfully though, without the prescription glasses that help my 45-
year old eyes see clearly, the netting made little difference. I
quickly got used to the play through the netting but am grateful I
don't have to look through it to describe the action on the radio. In
some NHL buildings, the netting extends up from the end zone glass
only about 20-25 feet, which is an ample deterrent for pucks
deflecting into the crowd.
But the issue I heard from some of the Boston and New Jersey fans was
that the top of the netting had a bar that stretched the width of the
rink and tended to impair the fans vision of the action when the play
would come into the offensive zone and out, but only for an instant.
One thing I have noticed about the netting and the deflected pucks is
that when the puck is deflected or accidentally shot out of play over
the end glass, the puck tended to end up in the bottom half of the
netting. But the installation of netting systems in NHL buildings is
another point in NHL history.
Years from now, fans might refer to the NHL by its different eras.
The 6-team NHL era; the 12 Team NHL era; the expansion 70's NHL era;
the 21-team NHL era; the Islander and Oiler dynasty 1980's era; the
Southern expansion of the NHL in the 1990's era and maybe, just
maybe, the protective netting era.
On to the new rules regarding obstruction and interference. During
the off-season, the NHL made it clear that its officials would be
cracking down on all types of obstruction interference. The refs
would pay particular attention to players away from the puck and
defensemen attempting to slow down fore-checking forwards.
In the five preseason games and three regular season games I've
witnessed so far, I've noticed that the referees have done an
admirable job of calling what should be called, while allowing the
marginal stuff to slide.
What this has meant is that defensemen now have to fend for
themselves when an opponent is pursuing the puck with heavy fore-
checking pressure. These situations create turnovers and lead to
offensive chances. The result (so far anyway) is that the games are
faster, more wide-open, more entertaining and playmaking has once
again come back to the NHL, especially in cycling situations.
Dump and chase hockey will always be a part of the NHL game. But the
entertainment value of watching transition hockey including odd-man
rushes due to the hustle of the players involved, can't be measured.
When NHL stars can be just that, the game is heading toward good
health. I am also amused by the new faceoff rule that has been
adopted by the league. Players seem much more determined to get into
the faceoff circle and get down to business, rather than posturing,
chirping at an opponent or an official, or positioning teammates
prior to the draw.
On two occasions, I witnessed linesmen throwing the puck down to the
ice when players weren't ready in the faceoff circle, which meant the
linesman had finished his 18 second count and was following orders to
drop the puck. Players got the message quickly as they raced to the
faceoff circle so as not to miss the drop of the puck. I also find it
humorous to see three hockey players racing to get to their bench to
avoid a too many men on the ice penalty. They resemble NFL players
who suddenly realize they're the extra man on the field and race off
to the sidelines just before the snap of the ball. The new rule has
clearly sped up the game and has stopped a lot of nonsense. I like
Next week's column will feature a quick review of the Islanders games
against the Philadelphia Flyers and Atlanta Thrashers and possibly a
few odds and ends. Thanks for reading, see you next week.
Post Draft and Mid-Summer Thoughts By John Wiedeman John Wiedeman (July 3) Ok, now that the 2003 NHL Entry Draft is done and gone, the city of Nashville,Message 1 of 2 , Jul 3, 2003View SourcePost Draft and Mid-Summer Thoughts
By John Wiedeman
(July 3) Ok, now that the 2003 NHL Entry Draft is done and gone, the
city of Nashville, Tennessee is now richer, culturally, spiritually
and in the pocket book, too. Though an NHL Draft isn't a bank-
breaking event, it is a lot of fun to attend, whether you've never
been to one or you're a draft veteran. This year's draft featured a
veritable bumper crop of talent and a number of interesting sidebars.
Seemingly all 30 NHL teams stood a good chance of landing a top
prospect and most did.
Lineage, pedigrees, bloodlines, call em' what you will, seemed to
steal the headlines as the draft eligible sons and relatives of many
former NHL players were selected by different NHL clubs.
The Islanders, for example, chose Robert Nilsson, the 18-year old son
of former NHL playmaker and scorer Kent Nilsson. Robert "is an
unbelievable talent and a little tougher than his father," said
Anders Kallur, the Islanders Chief European Scout. Like the fate of
any draft pick, at age 18 it's difficult to project where and when
Robert will fit in with the future Islanders, if at all.
But his recent statistics seem to indicate the Islanders could well
reap dividends from his offensive prowess in future seasons. His
numbers at age 17 surpassed those of fellow Swedes Peter Forsberg of
the Colorado Avalanche and Markus Naslund of the Vancouver Canucks.
Just in case you've forgotten, Forsberg and Naslund finished #1 and
#2 in NHL scoring respectively, both with 100-plus point seasons.
Nilsson was actually Canadian born-1985 in Calgary--at a time when
his dad competed with the Flames' perennial Cup challenging clubs of
the 1980s. The family moved back to Sweden as Kent's hockey career
wound down at about the same time that Robert's was just beginning.
Now, another chapter in the Nilsson family hockey history book has
started. Where it will end remains to be seen, but if the gene pool
offers any kind of a hint, the Islanders got themselves a good one.
The draft also featured the sons of several former Islanders being
chosen in the first round. Zach Parise, son of JP Parise, was
selected 17th overall by the New Jersey Devils while Jeff Tambellini,
son of Steve Tambellini was chosen 27th overall by the Los Angeles
And though he isn't a direct descendant, Ryan Suter, nephew of former
NHL blueline great Gary Suter, was chosen 7th overall by the host
Nashville Predators. According to the scouting report, Ryan has the
goods and should develop into a solid NHL defenseman. And Ryan has a
little something to live up to as well, as his father Bob was a top-
notch defenseman at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1970s.
Bob was also a teammate of former Islanders defenseman Ken Morrow on
the 1980 US Olympic Team that won the Gold medal in Lake Placid. The
aforementioned uncle Gary won a Stanley Cup with the Calgary Flames
back in 1989, then finished a good NHL career by playing with the San
Jose Sharks in 2002. If nothing else, the NHL will once again feature
names we've somehow never forgotten and for Islanders fans, never
The lone aspect of the draft that I don't like (and I've seen it at
every one of them) is the long faces worn by the prospects who aren't
drafted and exit the arenas wondering what their futures hold. The
familiar phrase, "Hang in there, buddy" can be heard in every
corridor. In time, they all find out whether or not they're cut out
for professional hockey but the disappointment and loss of hope on
draft day is palpable and very sad to watch.
In my time working in professional hockey, I've had the good fortune
of attending a total of seven NHL Drafts. Among those, the one thing
I always looked forward to was the blockbuster trades that, when
announced, struck like a bolt of lightning. Those that stand out for
me were the 1992, 1994 and 2001 drafts.
The 1992 draft was the last one ever held at the old Montreal Forum
and was the scene of the "where will Eric Lindros play?" saga. After
offers, counter offers, pot-sweetening and who knows what else,
Lindros was eventually awarded to the Philadelphia Flyers by an
independent arbitrator. The arbitrator, by the way, the man
responsible for reviewing all of the information and awarding Lindros
to Philly was the uncle of former Islander Todd Bertuzzi. Then at the
1994 Draft at the Hartford Civic Center, a hush fell over the large
crowd as former Islander Wendel Clark (then a Toronto Maple Leaf) was
traded from the Leafs to the Quebec Nordiques for Mats Sundin and a
swap of first round picks. Then in the summer of 2001 in Sunrise,
Florida, Islander General Manager Mike Milbury swung several deals
involving defenseman Adrian Aucoin, Captain Michael Peca, and leading
scorer Alexei Yashin.
So with all of that rehashed, I must admit I'm a little surprised
that in the 2003 draft, no legitimate blockbuster deals were made
during the two day affair. The possible labor dispute of September,
2004 is probably a major reason why big deals weren't made, and it's
a safe bet that several may have been pulled off the table at the
last minute due to a collective sense of fiscal responsibility by NHL
If you attended the draft in person or watched on TV as I did and you
were hoping to see a couple of big-time moves, you had to be a little
disappointed when it was over. Compared to past Entry Drafts where
wheeling and dealing was common in all rounds, this edition of the
draft was melancholy. Melancholy except of course for the kids whose
futures were decided as they were chosen by various NHL clubs. For
them, it was the most exciting day in their lives to this point and
for many it will only get better. With talk of a new home for the
Islanders seeming to get louder by the day, Islanders fans should
expect that one day, the NHL Draft will come to Long Island.
A special thanks is due to all the Islanders fans who gathered at
Jillian's Restaurant for the annual Islanders Draft Party. Though I
was unable to attend, my sources tell me that my broadcast partner
Chris King did an exceptional job in emceeing the event. Everyone had
an enjoyable time talking NHL and Islanders hockey and watching
future stars join the professional hockey ranks.
Finally, at Iceworks of Syosset, the Islanders practice facility, a
mini-camp was conducted recently with Islanders players and prospects
attending -- Rick DiPietro, Justin Mapletoft, Justin Papineau, Eric
Godard, Trent Hunter, several of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and 2002
#1 Draft pick Sean Bergenheim. What I expected to see was something
of a country club atmosphere where the guys go out, play a little
pond hockey, work up a sweat and have a good time for three weeks.
After all, it was mid-June, summer, which traditionally is the "off
season" for hockey players. What I got was a dedicated bunch of kids
who worked tirelessly to improve themselves so as to challenge for
roster spots in the 2003 training camp. I was pleasantly surprised by
what I saw.
Thanks for reading, have a happy and safe 4th of July and enjoy the
rest of the summer!