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Coach Nino skates at LI camp

by Brittany Cole / New York Islanders
Last year, Nino Niederreiter was drafted by the Islanders at 17-years-old, just a few years removed from attending youth hockey camps in his native Switzerland. With his sights set on playing full-time in the NHL, the now 18-year-old made a return to camp – sort of.

Niederreiter stopped by Islanders Iceworks in Syosset Friday, Aug. 19, to skate with 25 kids who want to be just like him. He ran through drills with the campers, who ranged from six to 13-years-old, before answering questions and signing of autographs.

“I just stepped out there and was being a passer,” Niederreiter said. “I was just loving it. I was teaching a couple of the guys to make some tighter turns and fire up those shots. It was definitely fun out there.”

Nino Niederreiter talks to the campers at Islanders Iceworks in Syosset on Friday, August 19, 2011.
It was fun for the campers, too. From the moment the Islanders 2010 fifth overall selection skated onto the ice, he was mobbed by the young skaters, whose excitement increased as the Isles prospect began running through drills.

As one of the Islanders top prospects, Niederreiter took the lessons he learned from those camps as a young skater and helped lead by example.

Niederreiter demonstrated the first drill. Then the skaters formed four equal lines to perform the drill and shoot on each respective goalie, but the lines seemed to shift to the side of the rink where Niederreiter was skating. The young players couldn’t wait to be near one of their hockey idols.

The young campers had to look up to the 6’2”, 205-pound Niederreiter, as he literally towered over all of them. But he’s looked up to in more ways than one. For a player who’s only played in nine NHL games, the young Niederreiter is already admired, something he’s humbled by.

“It’s a dream and every player dreams about being a part of that,” Niederreiter said when discussing what it’s like to be a role model. “I had the chance to see the pros in Switzerland. They were on the ice a couple times when I was younger. I always loved it. It’s great that I can kind of do the same thing for those younger guys (here).”

Nino Niederreiter signs an autograph for one of the campers at Islanders Iceworks on Friday, August 19, 2011.
After completing the drills, Niederreiter, who grew up in Chur, Switzerland, answered an array of questions pertaining to where he grew up to his favorite childhood NHL team and player.

His answer to the last question was Harijs Vitolins, a Latvian-born player who played for Niederreiter’s hometown team, Eishockey Club Chur (EHC Chur) in the late 1990’s.

“When I was younger, the NHL wasn’t very big (in Switzerland), so I didn’t really know a lot of the players,” Niederreiter said. “Of course I knew Gretzky, but it was Vitolins. He skated a couple times with me on the ice. It was great.”

Learning from Vitolins – who played in eight games with the Winnipeg Jets during the 1993-94 season – was something that helped the young forward succeed. He said he wanted to provide a similar atmosphere for the young skaters at Iceworks in hopes that they, too, can someday realize their dreams.

Before wrapping up the afternoon skating session, Niederreiter signed autographs for all of the campers. From pictures to sticks, jerseys, pucks and gloves, he signed everything brought his way.

“It’s nice to see some future hockey players who will hopefully be in the league one day,” Niederreiter said. “I think if you’re having fun, that’s what it’s all about, especially at a young age.”

He added, “If you still love it when you’re 16 or 17 and think you want to go all the way (to play in the NHL), that’s even better. But I think if you’re young and just enjoying it…that’s most important.”

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