BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - Rick DiPietro is back in Bridgeport, a place he never expected to see again.
The Islanders placed the oft-injured goaltender on waivers last week, and with an enormous contract and five seasons impacted by a series of injuries, there was little chance that another team would pick him up and save him from going down to play for the AHL Sound Tigers.
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"The last couple of years, with all the injuries, if it's taught me anything, it's that I need to enjoy what I do," DiPietro said yesterday after practice at Webster Bank Arena, the Sound Tigers' home. "It's a good opportunity to play a lot of games and get sharp. At the end of the day, you want to compete. You want to win. That's what I want to do."
Drafted No. 1 by the Islanders in 2000, he played 20 games for them that season. DiPietro then spent the 2001-2002 season with the Sound Tigers, who made the AHL final, and he spent another 34 games with them the following season. But since then he's been back only for conditioning stints, not as a regular player.
He said his body feels good after the litany of injuries -- knees, hips, facial fracture, concussion -- that took him from the NHL All-Star Game to the AHL in five years.
"It's just playing games," DiPietro said. "You can't replicate games, game speed. I'll be able to do that here."
It's not yet clear when he'll start his first game; he and coach Scott Pellerin said that decision hasn't been made.
"He's been here before. Nothing's new to him," Pellerin said Wednesday. "It's great . . . to have somebody with that type of experience and has battled through that kind of adversity."
"It's going really well," DiPietro said of his new teammates. "It's an unbelievable group of guys here. I'm looking forward to winning a lot of games with them."
DiPietro, who was 0-3-0 with a 4.09 goals-against average and .855 save percentage this season for the Islanders, joined the Sound Tigers on Tuesday. He appeared comfortable, joking around with teammates in the lobby of the local practice rink, the Wonderland of Ice, as they packed up their gear.
"He's a good guy," forward Nino Niederreiter, who played with DiPietro the past two years with the Islanders, said on Tuesday. "The public and the fans outside don't always look [at him] as positive as the players do."
Niederreiter was on the ice early with DiPietro to give him some extra shots on Tuesday. DiPietro and Islanders goaltending consultant Steve Valiquette did extra video work after practice yesterday with Kenny Reiter, who started both games for the Sound Tigers last weekend.
DiPietro jumped right in Tuesday, gathering the defense around him for a talk midway through practice.
"I think he'll be the same guy he is up [in the NHL]," defenseman Ty Wishart said. "He's a riot in the dressing room. He's a lot of fun. He's going to lighten the mood in the dressing room."