Rick DiPietro's new career path on sports talk radio

Former Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro rehearses for his Former Islanders goalie Rick DiPietro rehearses for his show with Alan Hahn on ESPN Radio inside the studio in Manhattan on Sept. 3, 2014. Photo Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

Rick DiPietro and Alan Hahn were supposed to be preparing for a radio show, but the conversation again had gone "off the rails," as they like to put it. The subject: Batman vs. Superman.

"Batman is Inspector Gadget with a cool suit," DiPietro said before veering into an analysis of Aquaman and his heroic limitations, which brought Hahn back to Iron Man, of whom he said, "Again, he's just a guy in a crazy suit."

This was Wednesday evening, an hour before the latest episode of a summertime radio bromance on ESPN New York that improbably has lasted past Labor Day and whose public reception has both surprised and heartened DiPietro, the former Islanders goaltender.

By 7:20, the discussion had found its way on to the air when DiPietro finally concluded, "Unless Batman's suit is made of Kryptonite, he has no chance."

Before they were done at 11, they had covered a range of sports topics and many other matters, including the old MTV reality show, "Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica," and the tracklist of Michael Jackson's "Thriller."

To say DiPietro, whose most recent job had been blocking vulcanized rubber disks for a living, is enjoying all this would be an understatement.

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"It's just so easy, man," he said in the show's Upper West Side studio as he studied a stack of newspapers -- old school! -- with a highlighter and a notebook full of potential material he neatly had written out during the day.

"My wife is like, 'Isn't four hours a lot?' And we'll look at each other at 11 o'clock and say, 'That's it?' We could go for six. We could go for eight . . . It just goes so fast."

Actually, Hahn and DiPietro do go for six or eight, in that their debates begin as they carpool from their homes in West Hills and Oyster Bay and continue on the ride back to Long Island.

It all works thanks to a relationship dating to Hahn's time covering DiPietro and the Islanders for Newsday, one that continued into Hahn's current job as a Knicks studio analyst on MSG.

DiPietro would text observations and/or wisecracks when Hahn was on MSG or hosting Saturdays on ESPN Radio.

"After the show I would text him back, like: 'You should do this,' " Hahn said. "He would just say, maybe, yeah, maybe. I would tell him: 'We're going to do this one day. I'm going to get you in there one day.' "

It happened Aug. 11, when DiPietro joined Hahn and SNY's Brian Custer. Two nights later, Hahn was scheduled to work alone. He told DiPietro to come along anyway, figuring "no one needs to know."

That night DiPietro landed a newsmaking interview with the Mets' Matt Harvey, a friend of his.

Then Hahn was asked to work Labor Day afternoon, the traditional end point for summer radio fill-ins. He said he would do it if DiPietro could come along.

Soon they were doing nightly shows this week, while the usual host, Dave Rothenberg, joined the midday show with Ryan Ruocco, whose old partner, Stephen A. Smith, now has a satellite radio show.

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They are set to work nights again next week. After that . . . "Who knows?" Hahn said. "I'm just riding it, having fun with it, and we'll see what happens."

That is DiPietro's attitude, too. But unlike Hahn, he does not have another job waiting for him.

At 32, DiPietro's career as a goaltender might be over, thanks to injuries that derailed the 2000 No. 1 overall draft pick, 2006 Olympian and 2008 NHL All-Star, whose 15-year, $67.5-million deal was bought out by the Islanders last summer. (His Twitter handle, @hdumpty39, is a reference to his oft-broken body.)

He last played in late November for the Hurricanes' AHL affiliate in Charlotte.

Would he like to play again? "Everything's kind of in flux right now," he said. "Mind says yes, body says no . . .

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"If the opportunity arises, it's something I might think about. But it's been a struggle for the last couple of years trying to figure that out because everything's falling apart. I do not want to play if I can't perform at the level that I think is acceptable."

So for now, at least, "radio is where I'm at," DiPietro said. And he has proved to be good at it, with a dry wit delivered with a Boston-area accent and thorough knowledge of sports and pop culture.

When Hahn, 43, warned him not to become pigeonholed as a hockey expert, he assured him that would not be a problem. He was watching a WNBA game at the time. "I watch college bowling!" DiPietro said.

Mostly, the show has had the effect of humanizing him beyond the injuries and that infamous contract.

"What's most touching to me is the response I've gotten on Twitter," he said. "This is kind of a weird part of my life here, where I'm trying to make a decision about where I go, and part of me was nervous coming on the radio that I was going to get killed from everyone. It's been the complete opposite. It's been love and well wishes.

"I get Rangers fans who are like, 'I hated you when you played for the Islanders. But I have to be honest, I love listening to you on the radio.' That's really what I wanted at the end of the day."

DiPietro and Hahn also are taking their act outside the studio. They plan to visit with tailgating fans before Sunday's Jets opener against the Raiders.

Justin Craig, the station's program director, said he believes the pairing has a bright future, "one that will keep me consistently working on ideas of ways to keep them a part of our lineup."

He noted the "very natural and organic feel" of the show. "From Day One, the chemistry between Alan and Rick has been the foundation of what drives the listen," he said.

"I love it," DiPietro said. "I'll do it until they tell me to stop. I would always joke with my wife: 'Can you imagine if I got a job where I get to talk about sports for a living?' She was like, 'I can't even imagine. You'd love that.'

"This is like a dream come true."

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