Cue the pomp and circumstance folks, there is an All-Star goaltender making his triumphant return to hockey tonight and his name is Rick DiPietro.
DiPietro missed all but five games in the 2008-09 season and all of the current season due to numerous hip and knee injuries. His landmark contract aside, many feel DiPietro was rushed back into playing too quickly after a series of unrelated injuries and was unsurprisingly re-injured.
Islanders management has really stepped up the protection of their franchise goaltender and given him ample time to heal and get the rehabilitation he needs to stay healthy. Tonight's game for DiPietro will not be in Tampa Bay against the Lightning, where the Islanders are set to play—instead it will be in Bridgeport, Connecticut for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers of the American Hockey League as they face the Springfield Falcons.
DiPietro's last appearance for Bridgeport came under similar conditions on a conditioning stint in the 2003-04 season when he played two games, both of them losses.
For those worried that throwing him into a game situation after missing 11 months of hockey is too much too soon, rest assured: the most DiPietro will play tonight is a half. Depending on how the game and ensuing practices go, will determine his playing time over the next stretch of games for the Sound Tigers.
Sound Tigers beat writer Michael Fornabaio also reports that DiPietro will not wear the number 39 as he has for his NHL career, instead will wear the number 29 as he did throughout his playing time on the Sound Tigers.
Rick DiPietro's eventual return to the New York Islanders also gives them some trade options. Martin Biron has not played exceptionally well this season, but is on a one-year contract and 40-year-old Dwayne Roloson has been rock solid for the Islanders and is in the first year of a two-year contract.
With DiPietro's tainted injury history, it may prove to be a tough decision for Islanders GM Garth Snow. It's certainly a good position to be in though, having three NHL goaltenders that are all capable of stealing games.
I will be up in Bridgeport tonight to watch Rick DiPietro's return to hockey, so I should have some great follow-up material tomorrow.