Blair Riley had planned on spending his 2011 Thanksgiving in Reading, PA with family friends. A member of the ECHL’s Chicago Express, Riley had scored the game-tying goal in a 3-2 win over the Reading Royals on Wednesday, Nov. 23 and was scheduled to play in the second game of the series Friday night.
However, Riley’s plans changed with a phone call on “Turkey Day.”
college roommate was playing for Reading at the time,” Riley explained.
“Thanksgiving morning he actually proposed to his girlfriend, so we
were celebrating and having some appetizers before dinner when I got
Riley was set to join the Sound Tigers on a
professional tryout contract that Friday for a three-game weekend.
Though Reading is fairly close geographically to Bridgeport, CT, the
trip on Friday morning for the Sound Tigers’ game against the
Connecticut Whale that was anything but easy.
“The cab driver
basically took me to this field that had a seven-seat prop plane…I
wasn’t too sure that thing was getting off the ground,” Riley joked.
the plane took off and Riley suited up for the Sound Tigers 6-2 win
over the Whale. Seven months later, Riley’s career has taken off, with
a spot at Islanders Prospect Camp and an NHL contract to his name.
it’s definitely a big jump from last year,” Riley said. “It all kind of
happened quickly. Having this certainty coming into the season and
having a spot in Bridgeport is great to know.”
Riley made the
most of an opportunity that extended far beyond his expectations – “I
was actually only supposed to be in Bridgeport for that one weekend and
head right back to Chicago” – that has landed him on Long Island.
he’s one of the newest members of the Islanders organization, Riley may
have more experience than anyone at this year’s prospect camp. The
Chase, BC native played four full seasons in the British Columbia
Hockey League before a four-year stint at Ferris State University that
concluded in 2010. Riley spent a full season in the ECHL with Las Vegas
and earned brief stints in the AHL with San Antonio and Peoria before
Fast forward to Bridgeport, where Riley worked hard
to stay in the lineup game in and game out. Riley averaged a point per
game with Chicago to start the season, but saw his role change early on
with the Sound Tigers, adding toughness to the lineup and working hard
on the penalty kill.
“It was almost two different seasons for
me,” Riley explained. “Starting at the Portland Pirates training camp,
heading back to Chicago… I learned a lot about my game. The first 15
games or so (in Bridgeport), I wasn’t really thinking about scoring or
anything like that, I was just trying to stay in the lineup.”
finished the season with 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in 55
regular season games, although he didn’t net his first goal until his
31st game with the club.
“(The lack of goal scoring) was getting
out of hand,” Riley laughed. “It just started snowballing…once you get
that first one out of the way it gets a little easier. I was definitely
getting a little frustrated to be honest, but we were very successful
as a team during that time which helped.”
The only thing that
may have gotten more out of hand than Riley’s goal-scoring drought
(though he did post seven goals in his last 25 games) was his
recognizable black beard.
“That was way out of hand too,” Riley
joked, and has skated at this week’s Islanders Prospect Camp
clean-shaven. “I went back home this summer and none of my friends
recognized me with the beard. Then I came back here for prospect camp
and no one recognized me without it. I was having a bit of an identity
crisis. Maybe if I’m not scoring to start the season I’ll bring it
Riley did show some of his offensive abilities in Thursday night's Orange & Blue Prospect Game. The usual fourth-line forward played top-line minutes alongside top offensive prospects including Ryan Strome, Kirill Kabanov and Brock Nelson.
“I’m not used to that…I’m usually on the fourth line
grinding it out,” Riley joked. “We were down a right wing in the second half,
so I got to play a lot. The ice was slow so we got to do some chip and
chase and bang around. Those are some skilled young guys...it was a lot of fun.”
Regardless of the point totals that Riley posts this season, he understands what his role will be within the organization.
know I’ll be one of the older guys in Bridgeport, my first NHL contract
here turning 27 years old,” Riley said. “I’m going to be looked at as a
leader on this team and will look to take more of a leadership role.”