Winning an NCAA Championship is pretty exciting. According to goaltender Kenny Reiter, signing a professional contract takes the cake.
“Signing that contract was probably the best moment of my hockey career so far,” Reiter said days after inking a two-way (AHL/ECHL) deal with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. “I’m proud to say I’m a member of the New York Islanders organization. “
Reiter’s dream came true this offseason after he completed his career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth last season and made impressive showings with the Sound Tigers and at Islanders Rookie Camp in late June. The Pittsburgh, PA native stopped 26-of-29 shots in his pro debut, a 3-2 loss at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on April 14, and didn’t allow a goal during his time in net at the Isles Blue & Orange Game.
“I had a good feeling after camp,” Reiter explained. “I felt like there’d be an opportunity here, based on my performance and the vibes I got from the staff and the organization.”
Reiter’s journey to professional hockey began just as Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins began an impressive stretch in the late 80’s and early 90’s.
“Hockey was really just a family passion,” Reiter said. “It started with my dad who loved the game but never had the opportunity to play professionally…Mario Lemeiux had such a big impact on me growing up. He changed hockey in Pittsburgh and the Penguins were winning Stanley Cups…that drove me.”
Reiter left home at age 15 to begin his junior hockey career which spanned five seasons. While that proposition may have been daunting to some, the young Reiter was fortunate to follow in familiar footsteps. Kenny’s brother, Kevin, also played goalie in juniors before moving on to the University of Alaska-Anchorage and the professional ranks.
“My brother started playing before me and I looked up to him,” Reiter said. “He left home at 16 to play in juniors, and he had a quicker route to college than me. I had a bit of a rollercoaster career in juniors, but he really helped me cope with being away from home and let me know what to expect.”
After his junior career which included stints with six different teams, Kenny earned a spot at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs play in the same collegiate conference as Alaska-Anchorage, and Reiter continued to use his older brother as a resource as the two matured.
“Especially as it got later in juniors and into college, we were a bit more mature and were able to discuss different situations in terms of where I was playing,” Reiter explained. “He had faced all of those teams, so he could let me know what to expect if we were going into a certain rink.”
Reiter didn’t immediately get his opportunity to shine when he arrived at Minnesota-Duluth. Reiter saw limited action early in his collegiate career, watching and learning from San Jose Sharks goaltending prospect Alex Stalock.
“I went into college a little uncertain of where I stood,” Reiter said. “I knew they had an All-American goalie in Alex Stalock, I knew I wouldn’t be starting when I got there…for two years, I basically kept my head down and worked hard. Eventually, I took advantage of my chance.”
Reiter did more than just take advantage of his chance. He broke out during the 2010-11 season, appearing in 31 games and notching a 16-7-5 record en route to the NCAA Championship win with a 3-2 overtime victory over Michigan.
“That’s probably the biggest game I’ve ever played in,” Reiter said. “That year, I knew we had a pretty good team. We had a bit of a rough stretch during the middle of the season, but peaked during the right time. Winning that game in front of a huge crowd like that was amazing.”
Reiter posted a career-high 23 wins with the Bulldogs last season before turning pro and joining the Sound Tigers for the final three weeks of their regular season and postseason. Although he treasures his NCAA Championship with Minnesota-Duluth, Reiter is excited for the next chapter of his career.
“This is why we play the game, we want to play professionally,” Reiter said days after signing a two-way (AHL/ECHL) contract with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. “It’s hard to say what’s better, but this has been my dream my whole life…I never necessarily dreamed about winning an NCAA Championship. I always wanted to be a pro.”