Reiter seizing his chance in Bridgeport

by Corey Hersch || AHL On The Beat Archive

When the parent club of an AHL team needs to make a roster move, it usually has a ripple effect throughout the organization.

When New York Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov went down with an injury back in November, Anders Nilsson was recalled from the Bridgeport Sound Tigers to replace him. This allowed Kenny Reiter to take over as the Sound Tigers’ starting goaltender, an opportunity that he has undoubtedly seized.

“I always want to be prepared for that,” Reiter said. “There’s always a lot of crazy things that can happen, especially in professional hockey with guys getting called up or injured. [Nilsson getting called up] was something that I was prepared for and something that I knew was possibly going to happen this year. So in practice I was doing my best to be consistent and have a good, technical game to fall back on.”

Reiter, 27, attended the University of Minneosta-Duluth and made his AHL debut on Apr. 14, 2012, against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, immediately following his senior season. He stopped 26 shots but the Sound Tigers fell by a final score of 3-2.

It was a sign of things to come in the American Hockey League for the netminder. Though he went 14-7-1 in 24 games for Fort Wayne in the ECHL in 2012-13, Reiter was winless in 12 contests for the Sound Tigers. His stats were fairly impressive for an AHL rookie — a 2.53 goals-against average and a .912 save percentage — but he went 0-5-2 in a Sound Tigers uniform. In four consecutive starts last year, Reiter gave up a combined seven goals, but lost all four games. Three of those games went to overtime and Reiter stopped 108 of 115 shots, good for a save percentage of .939.

“Kenny went quite a long time without a win and he was pretty upset with himself,” Sound Tigers head coach Scott Pellerin said. “But when you really break down the games and how he played, he was probably second or third star in every one that he lost. It wasn’t like it was an easy game where he was seeing 13, 15 or 18 shots. He was seeing more like 35 or 40 shots against and he was able to withstand a lot of that pressure. I told him, ‘Don’t change. I don’t care about the numbers.’ It’s about how he plays and how he maxes out his ability.”

At long last, Reiter earned his first AHL victory on Nov. 10 of this season, a 3-2 win over the Adirondack Phantoms. The Sound Tigers were outshot 30-20, but Reiter made 28 saves and was awarded the first star.

“It was a little bit of a relief, for sure,” Reiter said of his first win. “Once I got the first one, I was able to stop thinking about it. Now I can just go out and play and let the results take care of themselves.”

Reiter is 7-5-2 in 2013-14, and leads all Sound Tigers netminders in wins. The two shootout losses were on back-to-back nights, and both were games in which he certainly played well enough to win.

On Nov. 22, the Sound Tigers traveled to Providence, where the Bruins peppered Reiter with 45 shots on goal. He made 42 saves, but the Sound Tigers eventually fell in a shootout, 4-3. The following night in Worcester, Reiter played just as well, if not better. This time, the Sharks sent 38 shots his way and the Pittsburgh native stopped all but one. Once again, however, the Sound Tigers were unable to come up with an answer in the shootout.

Win or lose, it’s certain that Reiter is capable of being a full-time goalie at this level. He returned to his backup role in December, but Nabokov recently went down again, setting the same chain reaction in motion and placing Reiter in the starting spot for the Sound Tigers once again.

“I think his positional play and his development in regards to reading plays and controlling his rebounds have gotten very good,” Pellerin said. “He was always there, we just weren’t able to back him up. We’ve gotten a little bit better in regards to being connected and playing well as a team. He’s a guy that we rely on a lot and he’s played well for us so far this year. I look forward to a guy like that getting out there and playing well for us every night.”

Pellerin also noted that Reiter has taken on somewhat of a leadership role on a very young squad.

“He’s a quiet leader in a sense because, as a goaltender, they’re not usually the guys that are as vocal in the locker room,” Pellerin said. “But I think that his leadership comes from his work ethic and his compete level and the way that he gets prepared.”

“I really just try to communicate,” Reiter added. “I feel that communication on the ice starts in the locker room. Whenever I think something needs to be said, I try and say it. I’m not overly vocal in there but I just try to keep the guys engaged. I just try to keep it simple in what I say and keep the guys into it.”

With that attitude, Reiter has earned the respect of his teammates. When the final horn sounded on his first win, the Sound Tigers came off the bench to congratulate him with more vigor than a typical regular-season win. They knew how much it meant to Reiter, and it showed.

“Kenny’s always been so solid in net,” Anders Lee said following that game. “We’re all very proud of him.”

Everyone, including his head coach.

“It’s been a pleasure to have him,” Pellerin said. “I think he makes our team better every time he plays. The most exciting thing for me is to see a guy like that get an opportunity to succeed.”