Charlotte Checkers goalie Rick DiPietro stands in net.

Charlotte Checkers goalie Rick DiPietro stands in net. Credit: Handout

Rick DiPietro is trying to let go, but it hasn't been easy.

He dreams of returning to the NHL and winning a Stanley Cup, but he also laments parting with the Islanders just before they started turning the corner.

"I've been a part of a lot of average teams and rebuilding teams over the last 12 years," DiPietro said Wednesday. "That was really the most frustrating part. Finally, when things seemed to be turning around in Long Island and coming to fruition, I'm gone.

"I don't know if it's even sunk in yet totally," DiPietro said. "I'm still trying to sell my house in Long Island and move on."

The Islanders' former franchise goaltender is now playing for the Charlotte Checkers of the American Hockey League, the minor-league affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes. He had given up nine goals in two starts and sat out last night's game against the Chicago Wolves.

DiPietro, 32, said he still is trying to get past his days with the Islanders, who are paying him $1.5 million a year for the next 16 years after buying out his contract in July.

"It's definitely been a wake-up call," DiPietro said. "I never would have imagined playing anywhere else, but it's part of the business and you move on. The guys here have been great."

Before his release from the Islanders during the offseason, DiPietro talked about suicide after being sent to the minors.

In March, DiPietro opened up to News 12 about his struggles with injuries and being ridiculed by Islanders fans and said he has thought about driving his car "into a tree, off the Throgs Neck Bridge." He later backtracked on his comments about having suicidal thoughts, saying he was trying to make a joke.

Now he says he wants to put all that past him.

"Does part of me want to prove to people that I can still play and be successful? Yeah," DiPietro said. "But most of all I want to win a Stanley Cup. I want to be a part of winning again."

After going unsigned during the offseason, DiPietro hooked up with the Hurricanes' organization, which had goalies Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin nursing injuries.

"It's just the nature of the game," said DiPietro, who had been working out with a personal trainer in Toronto to keep in shape. "Goalies get hurt and you get an opportunity. I just got a phone call and my wife said, 'This is what you're doing, let's get going!' "

Under the terms of his player tryout offer, Carolina has 23 more games to decide whether to promote the former All-Star.

"When, and if, they want me and I can contribute and help I would love that," DiPietro said. "It's nice to have the opportunity to be here and work the kinks out. At the end of the day, as much as you want to get called up, you wouldn't want to go up there and not give yourself the best opportunity to be successful because you know it could be one game, or one period, and if you don't perform that could be your last."

Over his final five seasons with the Islanders, DiPietro appeared in just 50 games.

He missed time with multiple groin pulls, concussions, knee surgeries and a sports hernia. By the time Pittsburgh goaltender Brent Johnson fractured DiPietro's face in a brawl on Feb. 2, 2011, his ongoing health issues had become an unfortunate joke around the league.

Despite his new digs, the reality of being let go by a team that once signed him to a 15-year, $67.5-million contract has yet to fully set in.

DiPietro has shown his appreciation to his young Checkers teammates by showing up for practices with breakfast sandwiches for the team on several occasions.

"I'm feeling healthy for the first time in a long time and I've got a lot of hockey left," DiPietro said. "I feel like I'm pretty young still, especially with the lack of playing time over the last couple of years.

"I just don't want to have any regrets," he said. "I want to make sure that I've done everything I can to give myself the best opportunity to hopefully win a Stanley Cup. It's tough because I haven't won anything substantial since my first year in Bridgeport [the Islanders' AHL farm team] when we almost won the championship. You want that excitement. You want that feeling."

With Arthur Staple

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