With Rick DiPietro's season seeming to go in the wrong direction, I thought I would get a head start on the annual offseason-Rick DiPietro-is-facing-adversity-down long form story. See here and here for prior examples. (Oh look, Newsday just did one again!)
Ricardo Kalonymus DiPietro is making a burrito. "Creating a burrito" Mr. DiPietro corrected me. As he expertly layers the rice, salsa, black beans and guacamole into a tortilla shell, and rolls the shell into a doughy cylinder of deliciousness, Mr. DiPietro does not look out of place in his mumu, sandles, pony tail, beaded necklace and beard net behind the counter in this Chipotle Mexican Grill here in the Berkshires, summer redoubt for many seeking an escape from the modern world’s frenetic pace.
Working at a Chipotle may strike one as an odd off season activity for an NHL goalie coming of a season such as Mr. DiPietro’s: a GAA of 4.98, Save Percentage of .768 and a record of 0-5-3. Why not spend the summer at a training facility to sharpen your game? Mr. DiPietro sees it differently: "It’s all about tending, brother," he starts. "Whether you're tending goal or tending to the delicious Tex-Mex flavors of Chipotle, it’s all the same. It’s all about balance. And harmony. Can’t you see it man? Can’t you? Oh, and I also play, like a ton of NHL13 at night."
I ask Bill Jameson, manager of the Chipotle, about Mr. DiPietro. "He’s fine behind the counter but I tell you he has his quirks. He has this strange habit of abandoning his station in middle of a task and wandering off into a place he doesn’t belong," Mr. Jameson says. "There was this one time when he was sautéing some chicken on the grill and decided to engage a customer in a discussion of Buddhist theology. The kitchen almost burned down." As Mr. DiPietro sees it, that’s why he’s there. "I have so much to give on this earth. I can’t be tied down to one place."
And then there was the salary meeting incident. "One morning, Ricky walks into my office with this man in a suit who tells me that he ‘wants to talk salary.’ I asked if Ricky wanted a raise. The man says ‘not exactly. Ricky wants to discuss his long term future here. He’s willing to sign up for a 15 year contract at $12 an hour.’ Does he realize this is a fast food restaurant?" Ricky explains: "I wanted to demonstrate my long time commitment to this franchise. I think that’s important in any relationship."
When our talk shifts to the upcoming season, Mr. DiPietro’s eyes gain a fierce intensity. "I’m ready," he says. "This is the first healthy offseason I’ve had in years." But wasn’t he healthy last season, I ask him? And the season before? Ricky explains "this year I’m healthy on the inside." I ask Ricky about his weak performance last season, giving up nearly 5 goals a game. "I’ll be the first to admit, I had my ups and downs this past season, but I try to focus on the positives. Like that one time the player shot the puck and I saved it. But no matter what I do, I know the fans in Long Island love me. Even when I let in a goal, the fans will respond chanting ‘DP Rocks!’ It’s good to know the fans have your back. And they’re right: I do rock!" Ricky points to his sitar sitting in the corner of the Chipotle kitchen. By the time I try to tell him the correct words of the DP chant, my voice is drowned out by the sound of Ricky’s sitar as he tries to follow a youtube video of Ravi Shankar.
After all the injuries, surgeries and goalie controversies over the years, Ricky seems to finally understand that his place in the team’s plans has evolved since his was picked first overall in 2000. He's sanguine about talk of the Isles signing another goalie that possibly moves him further down the depth chart. "I’m ready to play. But if the coach chooses to bench me, I’m excited to bring my new kitchen skills to the locker room. I mean, think of it: it’s intermission in a tight game. The team is getting ready to open the third period on the power play. What better role can I play than whipping up some burritos for the guys? Imagine JT and Mouls skating around with bellies full of refried beans, guacamole and sour cream! What could possibly go wrong?"
And if there comes a time when management decides to let you go? "Then I can always come back here. I mean burritos and hockey: it’s all the same." Ricky thinks for a minute. "It’s all the same." He opens the refrigerator, takes out a tortilla and puts it on the grill. He’s going to make – no – create another burrito.