The first thing that came to mind when the InGoal Magazine email inbox started filling up with questions about New York Islanders goaltender Rick Dipietro returning to action Saturday night wearing an old-school helmet and cage was why anyone with an injury history as long as his would risk further damage in a set up known for causing pressure cuts and feared by some in the NHL as a concussion risk.
The second thing that came to mind was where the heck did he find one?
As Detroit’s Chris Osgood told InGoal it’s not easy to find parts for the old Bauer SK 2000 anymore. In fact, some of Osgood’s equipment managers have resorted to eBay searches and auto body paint to refurbish his old ones, and the current set up came all the way from Russia, thanks to a long-time Red Wings masseuse with ties to the old Red Army team that wore it.
(Speaking of Russia, Hasek and old masks, check out Paul Szabo’s InGoal update on how the aging goalie likes to purposefully deflect pucks off his modernized combo-cage in the Kontinental Hockey League, and hopes to keep doing so for another season).
Turns out Dipietro’s new look actually was one of Osgood’s old masks from his time with the Islanders. And while Osgood has admitted it puts him at more risk than a modern mask – “if I take one flush with mine, it might or might not cut me, but I’m going to feel it a lot more,” he told InGoal – it also turns out Dipietro was wearing it to protect his surgically repaired face.
Dipietro needed to have four plates and several screws surgically installed to keep everything in place after having his cheek caved in by the now infamous left hand of Pittsburgh backup Brent Johnson during an ill-advised goalie fight way back in early February. Dipietro joked about it with Newsday:
“I’m having some trouble with metal detectors these days,” he said. “I’m almost bionic at this point. Hopefully, I’ll be metal by the time I retire and we won’t have to worry about injuries anymore. Like the Tin Man, just lube me up and I’ll be ready to go.”
So what does this have to do with the old-school mask? As any good mask fitter will tell you, a modern lid should be snug at the temples and by the cheeks, and clearly Dipietro has good reason to avoid feeling the full impact of a puck in the latter area.
As for the risks, simply put the mask Dipietro is wearing now has a lot more flat spots and surface area for a flush puck impact than the smaller, more streamlined masks preferred by most of today’s goalies.
That’s why future first-ballot Hall of Fame goalie Dominik Hasek (who told reporters after being honored in Buffalo Saturday that he wanted to play one more season) had Gary Warwick make him a composite one-piece shell composed of carbon fiber, Kevlar and epoxy resin (pictured above).
It’s also the reason the Los Angeles Kings cited when they forced similarly injury prone goaltender Dan Cloutier to abandon the same helmet-and-cage set up in favor of a new-style mask because they were more worried about the risks of cuts and concussions than they were the fact Cloutier was uncomfortable and struggled to track pucks in the more modern mask.
There was also some buzz in the goal industry the NHL was going to make the set up illegal and grandfather in Osgood, but the league’s top goalie cop, Kay Whitmore, recently told InGoal Magazine it was news to him.
So Dipietro, whose almost absurd injury history since signing a 15-year, $67.5-million contract in 2006 also includes several hip and knee surgeries and more than one concussion, is free to wear Osgood’s mask, even though it’s easy to wonder why he’d risk it.
Then again, for all the potshots he takes, it might say something about how badly he wants to play.
According to a story in Newsday, he even came back after his bulldog, Roxy, was killed by a car the day after he came off injured reserve:
“It always seems like something,” DiPietro said a day before winning his return, 4-3 in a shootout over Florida, on Saturday night. “Whether it’s my face or my dog getting hit by a car. … It just seems like everything’s piling on here. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned from all of this, especially dealing with my knee, is that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Stuff happens, and you have to learn from it and become a better person. I think I’ve become a better person, a more patient person. I respect and cherish what I have here, and that makes me work that much harder to come back.”
I’ve been through a lot the past couple of years. You want to be part of something special. I’ve always said I thought we have a special group of guys here, and I think you’re starting to see that on the ice. I’m just thrilled to be back.”
Rick DiPietro photos courtesy of Ken DeNardo theFourthPeriod.com