Blast from the Past – Kevin Reiter

Quite a few Bison fans I know have only really watched the side since the EPL days and don’t remember our final season in the Elite Ice Hockey League. How can I describe the on ice season for the Herd in 2008/09?

It was truly awful.

The season however was not a total loss and there were a few upsides; Greg Chambers was named an EIHL all star, Jeremy Cornish won the hearts of the Bison fans by literally never giving up and we all got to watch Kevin Reiter play in goal.

Reiter earned plaudits the league over for basically being a one man brick wall whilst the team around him lost players and money and then the owner before Planet Ice stepped in to save the club.

Having called time on his career a couple of years ago, the Pennsylvania born netminder is now the head netminding coach for the United States National Team Development Programme (USNTDP) and sat down to answer a few questions.

 

Kevin Reiter in his Bison days. Courtesy of the Bison website.

Kevin Reiter in his Bison days.
Courtesy of the Bison website.

You’re a native of Pittsburgh, PA and a known Penguins fan. So you would have been about 9 and 10 years old around the time Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and that group of Pens players were dominating the NHL and winning Stanley Cups. What convinced you to be a netminder rather than trying to be that next superstar forward?

I am probably a little biased, but I truly think it is the most challenging position in team sports. You definitely have to be a bit crazy, but there is no other position I would want to play. You can directly affect the outcome of the game in one way or the other. There is nothing quite like the look on a forward’s face after robbing them of a sure goal. Also, I love the feeling when everyone on the team knows you played great and that final horn blows and those 18 guys jump the boards and come to congratulate you on a job well done. And of course, you get to wear all that cool gear and a customized helmet to your liking. When I was young, I also liked the fact that you were able to play the full game.

 

Your youth hockey career went well enough that you ended up going to the University of Alaska-Anchorage so probably as far away from home as you could be whilst still being in America. What were those 4 years like as a Seawolf?

My four years as a Seawolf were up and down to be honest. My first year I only played in a handful of games and we weren’t very good. I wanted to leave but we got a new coach and he promised me that if I stayed I would get an equal opportunity to play the next season as a starter. I stayed and had a great year (my second year). Our third year we really struggled and lost a lot of players due to injuries and suspensions. We ended up finishing on a high note though. In my fourth year we won the first round of the playoffs and got to be a part of the ‘Final Five in Minneapolis’. We got to play in the arena the Minnesota Wild play in and we had 18,000 people there to watch our series. I really improved and it helped me get the opportunity to play professional hockey. We always played against the top schools and they had many NHL draft picks so I saw a lot of quality shots each and every night.

Off the ice, it was great. I made a lot of friends that I still keep in touch with to this day. Two of my friends from there travelled 4,000 miles to be in my wedding. I would like to live there one day, but the winters are a bit too harsh. I see myself spending a lot of time in that area once I get old and retire. I loved the fishing, hiking, and biking. It is a beautiful place and in the summers you get 18 hours of daylight.

 

Your first year as a pro saw you sign for Missouri in the old UHL and it coincided with the 2004/05 NHL lockout. We’ve asked Brad Cruikshank previously about his experiences playing with Derian Hatcher and Chris Chelios; how did it change the River Otters when these guys from the St Louis Blues signed on?

For me, personally it was a great experience. We signed the best rookie defenseman in the NHL the previous year, Barrett Jackman. He was great in front of our net and was tough on opponents.

Also, you see how hard you have to work to get to the next level. At first, a couple of our guys were star struck but then you realize that they are just another guy on the team doing what they can to help you win. They treated us very well and respected the fact that playing at the AA level was our equivalent of the NHL. It was a learning experience too. The knowledge and experience they shared brought to the ice each and every day made everyone a better player.

 

You had a couple of good years at that AA level in St. Charles, Phoenix, Laredo and finally winning a Turner Cup in the IHL with Fort Wayne. You were a first team all star and the league’s outstanding goalie yet you decided to come to Basingstoke for 2008/09. How did that decision to sign here come about?

To be honest, a major deciding factor was the MBA package offered by Winchester University. I was going to stay in Fort Wayne or look for a contract in Europe, but I value education and thought it would be a great opportunity to experience the culture and get my MBA while being able to play the game I love. I always wanted to get my MBA and thought getting it in the UK would put me ahead of people in the USA when I went applying for ‘real’ jobs. Also, when I was researching where to play in the UK I liked how close to London the team was based.

 

That year for the Bison was nothing short of a mess for a variety of reasons but you took many plaudits from the fans and across the league for your performances. 4 or so years on with the benefit of hindsight, how do you look back at your time in Basingstoke?

I really enjoyed my time there. It is a great league and place to live. The fans were very supportive and I met some great people. I still keep in contact and have many great relationships with friends from that area. Despite all the off ice problems I took a lot of great memories from my time in Basingstoke.

 

You had a really unique design on your helmet in Basingstoke. How did that come about?

 

Kevin's helmet from his time in Basingstoke. Photo courtesy of Keith Johnson

Kevin’s helmet from his time in Basingstoke.
Photo courtesy of Keith Johnson

The front on view of Kevin's helmet from his time in Basingstoke. Photo courtesy of Keith Johnson

The front on view of Kevin’s helmet from his time in Basingstoke.
Photo courtesy of Keith Johnson

 

My helmet painter, John Pepe came up with idea to incorporate everything together and I thought it looked great. He only sent me one sketch and that is what we went with. Usually you have to leave it to the guys that are creative. I especially liked the backplate with Stonehenge and my parents name initials. I also liked how you could see the Bison head no matter how far away you were, but it also had great detail that you could admire close up.

 

What do you remember of your 64 save performance against the Blaze in Coventry?

That was one of my best performances as a pro. I remember we were always short benched in Basingstoke and just wanted to compete and play hard. My main goal every game was to try my best to give my team a chance to win. It was just one of those nights where nothing can go wrong. Sometimes those nights happen for goalies where you really don’t have the answers. A lot of pucks end up hitting the posts, or coming through screens and just hitting you and opponents miss unbelievable chances. Sometimes you can’t do anything right and sometimes you can’t do anything wrong. That night I couldn’t do much wrong. I will always remember the praise and kind words from coach Thompson after the game. I still remember his comments to this day.

 

After the Bison dropped to the EPL you played for Sheffield and Newcastle briefly then went back to Fort Wayne for a season before calling time on your playing career? You were only 29 when you retired, was it just time to stop?

I knew I wanted to try coaching after I was done playing. Also, I had a couple bad injuries in Basingstoke (ankle) and in Sheffield (sports hernia/Gilmore’s groin) and the older I get the more they bother me on a daily basis during the season. I tried to play in Fort Wayne the following season after the UK and those two injuries really hurt my ability to compete at 100%. I had the opportunity to go to Italy and coach and I always wanted to get into coaching so I thought this was worth hanging up the skates for.

 

You spent two years in Sterzing in Italy as their netminding coach before getting the call to join the US National Team Development Programme in Ann Arbor, Michigan. How did that job come about?

I ran hockey schools during the summer with Oly Hicks (HC in Sterzing) for 7 years and he asked me if I would be interested in coaching. His team was moving up to the top league and they had enough sponsorship for a second assistant/goalie coach. I knew that I would learn a lot from him over the course of the year. Getting my foot in the door and gaining some experience could lead to some nice avenues for coaching down the road like this USA Hockey position.

 

Tell us about your day to day role with the USNTDP

I am based in Ann Arbor Michigan. We have a U17 and a U18 team comprised of the 44 best players in the USA. I am on the ice with the four(2 U17 and 2 U18) goalies every day for separate goalie practices and then the team practices. It’s about 3.5 hours of on ice practice each day. I accompany one of the teams to their games on weekends and then go with the other team the next weekend. We have four international tournaments too. I do video analysis for our four goalies on previous games they played and scouting reports for teams that we will play next (tendencies, areas of concern, etc…)

Also, I am the National Goaltending Coach so I develop practice plans for all ages of goalies (U8-U20). I maintain our USA Goaltending website and add new materials on a monthly basis.

Along with all of this, I will serve as the coordinator of the Warren Strelow National Goaltending Mentor Program, which is designed to recruit, develop and produce elite netminders in the United States. It is a camp held in May where I bring in the best 24 goalies of a certain age and they get a free 4 day training camp from some of the best goalie coaches in the USA.

 

Your brother Kenny is currently in the AHL with Bridgeport after a successful college career. Is he now calling your up for coaching tips or just to make fun of his big brother?

It is a lot easier to speak regularly when we are on the same continent. It was a easier to talk when I was in Fort Wayne compared to the UK or Italy, but we would usually Skype on Sunday’s about the weekend games, family, school, Steeler football or whatever. I feel sometimes it’s best just to BS and not bring hockey into the conversation. Now, it’s a lot easier since we are both in the US this season. .

We spend a lot of time together over the summer running hockey camps. We are pretty much together for 12 straight hours each day. You would think we would get sick of each other, but actually the older I get, the more I cherish this time. We get to talk goaltending and different strategies with a lot of other high-end goalies. It’s nice to get their perspective on the position and see what works best for them and how they train. It’s always nice to bounce ideas off of other goalies and get their perspective.

I’m always trying to help Kenny improve his game. We didn’t start learning the modern game until we were a bit older, therefore, we’ve had to make some serious adjustments over the years. The summer is also a great time to watch some DVD’s from the past season to see what needs work.

 

Finally, any last message for the Bison fans?

I want every fan to know that I gave 100% every time I touched the ice and I appreciate the support and kind words after each game. I know we didn’t have a lot of success but it wasn’t due to lack of effort. Tell Skinnsy and Big Al (rink helpers) I said hello. They did so much for me there, that I can’t say thanks enough. GO BISON!

 

You can keep up with Kevin and the USNTDP at http://www.usantdp.com/

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