Reading Royals

The ultimate EBUG: Nick Niedert stole the show in surprise ECHL start

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The timing couldn’t have been worse. Nick Niedert’s phone rang on Friday afternoon and on the other end was the ECHL’s Reading Royals in need of an emergency goaltender after Austin Lotz was called up to AHL Lehigh Valley.

Niedert, who lives in Connecticut, quickly mapped out the trek in his head. A typical three-to-four hour drive to Reading, Pennsylvania would have taken him much longer on Black Friday when you factor in all the traffic he would likely experience. It was clearly a no-go.

But the Royals’ goaltending situation was in such flux that Niedert, 36, was still planning to be the team’s emergency backup for their Saturday night game in Glens Falls, New York against the Adirondack Thunder. As he was driving to the game his phone rang once again around 3 p.m. Reading’s assistant coach Mike Marcou was calling from the coaches office at Cool Insuring Arena and was kind of dancing around the reason for dialing. Eventually, Niedert asked what was going on.

“Well, you’re going tonight,” Marcou told him.

“Going where?” Niedert replied before it finally hit him after a beat. “Oh s—-. Alright. Let’s go.”

“You ready to go?” Marcou followed up.

Said Niedert: “Does it really matter?”

Royals goaltender Angus Redmond suffered a concussion, so the organization’s depth chart in net was depleted. In stepped Niedert, who went from EBUG to starter in a matter of a few hours. Backing him up was another EBUG that the team was able to grab before game time.

The pressure of the moment didn’t get to Niedert as he watched from his crease his teammates playing their hearts out, galvanized by their current predicament.

“You know what, it’s so cliche, it really is, but let me tell you when I say the guys played their balls off. Those guys… they threw everything out there,” Niedert told Pro Hockey Talk on Sunday. “They were phenomenal.”

A night after losing 8-3 to Adirondack, the Royals rebounded, thanks to Niedert’s 38 saves, for a 2-1 victory. It certainly wasn’t an easy one as the Thunder had six power plays, but couldn’t capitalize.

“The buy-in was absolutely remarkable,” Niedert said. “Honestly, in 15 years I’ve played over 300-something games, that was the most impressive, complete game I’ve ever seen in my career.”

As the final buzzer sounded and the Royals celebrated a victory, you could see how much Niedert’s performance meant to the team. A night earlier they suffered a big loss and then had to hop on a bus for five hours with that defeat still fresh in their minds. Factor in their goaltending situation and it wasn’t an easy lead up to Saturday’s rematch.

For Niedert, who’s gotten used to watching games from the bench as a legendary minor league EBUG, it was a satisfying experience considering it had been 1,032 days since his last ECHL start.

“When you’re on the team, you’re a part of it,” he said. “But when you’re on the ice contributing, there’s a big difference. It feels a helluva lot better.”

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That last start in the ECHL with the Royals — Jan. 27, 2016, a 7-5 win over Elmira — left Niedert with a bad taste in his mouth. His wasn’t happy with his performance that night and it stayed with him.

“That was a nightmare. I was so disappointed with the way everything went that day,” he said. “It’s almost like it didn’t count. It was just an unsatisfied feeling.”

That’s why when the buzzer sounded Saturday night and the Royals had sealed a win, it left Niedert in a different place. The reason why he keeps answering the phone whenever teams call is because of what transpired in Glens Falls.

“There’s no better feeling than being on the ice when the horn blows and the win,” he said. “When the rink’s pitch black and you’re leading your team on the ice, there’s nothing like it. There really isn’t.

“To play in a meaningful game in a National Hockey League affiliated league at this age… I’m 5-foot-8 from Iowa. It’s not exactly a hockey hotbed. I’ve been on borrowed time since I was 16 years old when I left home. All the stuff that I went through in my very, very, very extremely long career, it really was worth it [Saturday] night to see what the 17 other guys had to go through to get a win. … When you see guys getting banged up and you see guys getting the ice bags and you see guys fighting through being hurt, guys that are battling through everything, I want to be there for those guys, too.”

Niedert’s never gotten close to the NHL during his long career. Aside from a few AHL tryout contracts and EBUG situations, no invitation has been sent his way for a main training camp in either league. He’s been everywhere, seen everything. He’s been around so long that now former teammates and opponents have become members of opposing coaching staffs.

“It was really worth it. All the things that I went through coming up to [Saturday] night, all that stuff didn’t matter,” he said. “All those week-to-week paychecks, hoping your check doesn’t bounce, playing in front of 150 people some nights, all that was not even relevant. I was happy to do it. I was happy when that damn horn blew, I couldn’t play any longer. It was a helluva night and I’m beyond happy I had the opportunity to do that.”

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Call up Niedert’s profile page on HockeyDB.com or EliteProspects.com and your mouse will get a decent workout from all the scrolling you’ll have to do. In his 15 years as a professional, the Hudson, Iowa native has played or dressed for 36 teams in 11 different leagues.

Those numbers, however, are unofficial, something that Niedert says may make him one day sit down and sort through game logs for an true tally. He does estimate he’s dressed for somewhere between 700-800 games in his career.

Want an idea of the hectic life Niedert once led when he was a regular dial-a-goalie?

Here’s a sample of one week during the 2011-12 season:

Tuesday: Sent down from ECHL Elmira (NY) to FHL Danbury (CT). Picked up on waivers by ECHL Wheeling (West Va.)

Wednesday: Drive from Danbury back to Elmira for Wheeling road game. After pre-game skate, informed he was called up to AHL Bridgeport (CT). Drove back to Danbury for Thursday practice with Bridgeport.

Thursday: Practice with Bridgeport. Drive to Albany (NY) for game.

Friday: Play in Albany. Get sent back down to Wheeling, who were playing in Cincinnati (OH) on Saturday night.

Saturday: Travel to Cincinnati. Serve as EBUG.

Sunday: Play game. Travel back to Danbury.

That emotional roller coaster led Niedert to ask himself if it was really worth it to continue. But again, the phone kept ringing and he kept answering and grabbing his pads.

The ups and downs he’s experienced during a life in the minors has taught Niedert about resiliency and battling adversity, qualities needed in order to last as long as he has in the game.

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The thought of retiring has crossed Niedert’s mind before, sometimes on those long car rides home. And while he’s worked as a manager at the Brookfield, Connecticut Wesco Sports Center since 2010, he keeps answering the phone when teams call, knowing his has very understanding co-workers.

The phone keeps ringing because his reputation follows him at every single stop. Coaches know what they’re going to get. No matter how long he sticks with a team, he’s never going to change. He’ll support his teammates. He’ll stick tap a player who dropped to block a shot. He’ll be positive. He’ll show up early and be the last one off the ice. 

There was a time when goalies of Niedert’s size were all the rage: small and quick. Now, bigger goalies are much more athletic and have become the norm around the game.

“All I honestly have is my compete level. My skill set is not even close to these other guys,” he said. “Not even close. I’ll be honest, I’ll tell people that all the time.

“I just work. That’s all. That’s literally all I have in my bag, is just go out, give an effort, don’t be a s——- team guy, and see what happens.”

Down the line, when Niedert finally stops picking up that ringing phone, he’d like to get into coaching — junior hockey, specifically — in order to make an impact on young players’ lives. He doesn’t envision himself as a head coach, but feels more suited in the role of an assistant, that middle-ground guy who can be the liaison between the head coach and players.

He’s back working at Wesco — he put in a full shift on Sunday afternoon after arriving back from Glens Falls — and waiting for his next call. Reading head coach Kirk McDonald told him he’d get in touch if the team needed him again. In the meantime, he plays in a pro/am league once a week to keep sharp and works out regularly in case another EBUG situation pops up.

If he wanted to be like George Costanza he could go out on top, which very well could be the case. That next opportunity could come at any time and he’ll be ready to answer the call, if needed. If it doesn’t, Saturday night’s experience put Niedert at peace.

“If that was it — perfect,” he said.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

ECHL’s Reading Royals ready to debut special 3D jerseys

Athletic Knit
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When it comes to unique jerseys for specials theme nights, minor league hockey teams know how to do it right.

The latest creative jersey comes from the ECHL’s Reading Royals who will be donning a very special look for their annual Veterans Appreciation Game on Saturday, Nov. 17th when they host the Newfoundland Growlers.

What they’ll be wearing isn’t your typical theme night jersey. There’s no superhero design or characters from Star Wars featured. In fact, in order to get the full experience at the Royals’ game, you’ll need a special pair of glasses.

Behold the 3D hockey jersey:

Athletic Knit

Designed by the great Jeff Tasca, the Royals and Athletic Knit worked on these jerseys for the last six months. Through some trial and error and a few different techniques, they got the 3D design to work. It’s believed these are the first of its kind.

Reading’s sister team, the Allen Americans, will sport a Christmas version in December. Both are owned by Jack Gulati.

According to Tasca, the process was a bit longer than your typical special jersey.

“When initially making the design you want to have it with different ‘layers’ in it that appear 3D, so you first keep that in mind,” he told Pro Hockey Talk this week. “Then you have to go through applying the 3D effect to each layer in the artwork.”

In preparation for the special night, the Royals have ordered 1,000 pairs of 3D glasses for fans. A few jerseys will be featured in the arena concourse, along with glasses, so fans can get an up close view of them. Afterward, the jersey will be sold on the team’s new auction site.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Daniel Briere on starting up an ECHL franchise, his future in management (PHT Q&A)

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It didn’t take long for Danny Briere to get back into hockey following his August 2015 retirement. Two months later, he was working for the Philadelphia Flyers learning the ropes of management under the guidance of Paul Holmgren.

That experience prepped him for the next step in his post-playing career: management.

This past summer, Comcast Spectacor, parent company of the Flyers, bought the ECHL’s Alaska Aces, who were ceasing operations, and moved them to Portland and renamed them the Maine Mariners. Briere was named vice president of hockey operations and has been helping the franchise get prepared for its start for the 2018-19 season.

Portland had AHL hockey as recently as two years ago, but the Pirates were sold and moved to Springfield, Mass., which caught many in the community by surprise. Briere and his staff have been working to re-connect with the fanbase. They also now have a head coach after hiring Riley Armstrong. And while the franchise is owned by Comcast Spectacor, the Mariners are not affiliated with the Flyers or any NHL team at the moment.

We recently spoke to Briere about his move into management, what a day in his life looks like now and his future working in hockey.

Enjoy.

Q. How did this opportunity with Mariners come about?

BRIERE: “I always had a good relationship with Paul Holmgren. He’s the one who signed me with the Flyers when I was a free agent back in 2007. After I retired he approached me and gave me the opportunity to get involved on the business side with the Flyers, kind of learning a different facet of the organization that I didn’t know much or anything about. It’s been amazing. It’s really gotten me out of my comfort zone. At first, I was completely clueless to what was going on around me, but they have amazing people in the office that have helped me learn the business side and feeling more and more comfortable every day. It’s been a fun challenge; very uncomfortable at times, but that all started with Paul Holmgren bringing me aboard and giving me the chance to learn first-hand how it works behind closed doors.”

What are your duties now and will they change once the franchise is up and running next fall?

“I followed Paul around for a couple of years, along with [Flyers Chief Operating Officer, Alternate Governor] Shawn Tilger, they’ve been great at integrating me on the business side. When this opportunity came and Comcast Spectacor, who owns the Flyers, bought this ECHL franchise, Paul and Shawn approached me about running the business side of the hockey department for that franchise. I thought it was a great opportunity for me to get my toes wet a little bit, to learn first-hand and really move forward to make my own decisions a little bit. It’s not just about following and seeing how things work, but now I have a little bit more of a say and I have to make decisions. It’s been great. I don’t know moving forward what the deal will be. I’m just kind of running with this at this point and trying to make the best of it and trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”

Run me through a typical day for you as you’re getting things up and running?

“It’s checking in with the people up in Maine at this point. Because we don’t have a hockey team going, it’s mostly building the front office, checking in with [vice president of business development] Adam Goldberg up there, making sure everything is working right, that he has all the tools to function. It’s trying to get our name out in the community in Portland, letting people know that we have the team coming back, trying to get people back on board. And also some stuff on the hockey department, especially here in the second half looking at hockey games, trying to find players that might be enticing to add to our group and to bring to Portland for next year.

“I think it’s a job that evolved because we’re starting from scratch. You’re building a front office, now we’re going to start building the hockey side and then we have to put the team together before we start playing. There’s different stages and we’re moving towards every stage so far without too many problems. It’s been good. It’s been a lot of fun, but it’s a role that evolves as we moved forward.”

Did you have an idea of what you wanted to do after playing?

“No, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I’ve always liked the finance field. It’s something that I was always drawn into from an early age. But I also had no clue how much involvement it entailed [working in an] organization, how much work needed to be done on the business side. When I played I was worried about meetings on the teams I was going to face, on the power play we were going to bring up that night, the goalies I was going to face, the defensemen. So I had no idea how many people it needed, how much work needed to be done to get a game ready, to get people in the stands, to get advertising for a franchise to function. It’s been really cool to see a different side of hockey that I didn’t know much about.”

Do you see this as a first step into NHL management someday?

“Honestly, I hope so, but at this point I’m not looking too much forward. I want to enjoy what’s going on now. I’m having a blast, I’m having fun with this. I’m trying to soak it all in as much as I can to get some experience. It’s not very often that you have the chance to start an organization from scratch. We saw Vegas do it last year and they’ve been extremely successful, so they’re a good example as well. But it doesn’t happen very often. I’m trying to gather as much experience and information as I can as I’m going through it. I believe that moving forward it’s probably going to benefit me. It’s probably going to help me moving forward. That’s the way I see it, but I don’t have any long-term goals that I’m trying to get to or achieve. I’m just trying to enjoy this as much as I can and make this team and this franchise as successful as we can.”

What’s the response been like from the Portland community about the franchise coming back?

“It’s been good. I feel like the people in Portland have been burned a few years ago with what happened and the team leaving at the last second. We’re trying to make them believe in us, make them believe that we’re there for the long haul, it’s not a one-and-done. Because it’s such a big organization that Comcast Spectacor is, we’re serious about putting a good, solid organization there. But I have the feeling that they’ve been without hockey for a couple of seasons now and I feel like they are excited about this team coming back in their community and I’m hoping that people reach out and really decide to support it. We want that as well. We want to include the fans as much as possible. We want it to be their team and be there for the long haul, kind of like the old Maine Mariners, the reputation that they built over the year, we’re hoping it goes back to that and they can look at their team and be proud of the Maine Mariners, just like they were of the old Maine Mariners. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Saturday night’s alright for an ECHL brawl (Video)

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We got a doozy here.

A line brawl between the Toledo Walleye and the Kansas City Mavericks of the ECHL went down in the second half of the third period in a 5-0 romp by the Walleye on Saturday night in Toledo.

And yes, there was a solid goalie scrap to boot.

Here’s how the fun began:

And here are both goalies — Mason McDonald of the Mavericks in red and Matej Machovsky of the Walleye in blue — doing their best Chris Osgood, Patrick Roy impression.

The end result included 84 penalty minutes assessed on 12 calls, including four game misconducts, four fighting majors and a slew of other infractions.

The game ended with a total of 139 penalty minutes on 24 calls.

Here’s a breakdown from the box score:

  • Klotz KC (match – cross-checking), 12:14
  • Kwas KC (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • McDonald KC (leaving the crease, fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • Smith KC (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • Crisp TOL (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • Machovsky TOL (leaving the crease, fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14
  • Tansey TOL (fighting – major, game misconduct – secondary altercation), 12:14

It didn’t end there, either. Two more fights and another game misconduct were handed out with 30 seconds remaining in the game.

Here’s Roy vs. Osgood, for old times’ sake.

Holy jumpin’.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

It’s Teddy Bear Toss season and the fur has already been flying (Video)

Bakersfield Condors
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It’s the most wonderful time of the year. Yeah, the holidays are upon us, but it’s also Teddy Bear Toss season!

The Teddy Bear Toss is a promotion that has been done by many teams at various levels of hockey for years. While we wait for the kings of the event, the Western Hockey League’s Calgary Hitmen, to host theirs on Dec. 10, a slew of tosses took place recently and boy, did the fur fly.

• Let’s start in Bakersfield, California where Brad Malone’s shorthanded goal helped the American Hockey League’s Condors to a 7-3 win over the San Antonio Rampage. Malone’s goal also signaled the 8,862 fans — the franchise’s fifth-largest attendance ever — to send their teddy bears flying.

Here’s their multi-angle view via Adam Beck of the Condors:

The final total was a team record 10,549 stuffed animals, which will help nearly 50 local organizations. The all-time count after 19 years of holding the event is 121,395.

• Next up we have the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, who saw approximately 4,000 stuffed animals hit the ice to benefit Hug-a-Bears of Kent County.

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• A six-game point streak came to an end for the ECHL’s Wheeling Nailers over the weekend, but the fans at WesBanco Arena got to toss their bears following Garret Meurs’ first period goal.

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• Like I said, many different levels of hockey partake in this great tradition. Here’s the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League’s Estevan Bruins getting in on the act to help out the Salvation Army:

• The Children’s Miracle Network were one of the charities who benefitted from the Quad City Mallards’ event:

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• Ben Berard got the BCHL’s Powell River Kings fans out of their seats to send their bears flying:

• The event has even gone international with the Thomas Sabo Ice Tigers of Germany taking part:

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Pretty fun time, right? If you thought those were cool wait until you see what the fans in Calgary do next month when the Hitmen hold their annual Toss night. Last year they sent 23,924 stuffed animals to the ice, which was amazing but not close to the record they set in 2015 with a total count of 28,815.

Calgary Hitmen

That’s a lot of bears and a lot of soon-to-be very happy kids.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.