Brandon Saad, J.T. Miller and John Gibson – each of whom were selected in the 2011 NHL Draft - represented Pittsburgh on the squad that won gold at the 2013 World Junior Championships in Ufa, Russia.
|Kevin Reiter |
(Credit: Dave Reginek/USA Hockey)
Now, Kevin Reiter adds his name to the list for this year’s tournament in Finland, albeit in a different way.
Reiter, a native of Pittsburgh, will serve as an assistant coach under head coach Ron Wilson. Along with Reiter, Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios and U.S. National Development Team Program head coach Danton Cole will assist Wilson.
During a meeting with Jim Johannson, assistant executive director of hockey operations for USA Hockey, Reiter – who just completed his second season as goaltending coach with the USNDTP - was informed that he’d be named an assistant coach for the U.S. National Junior Team in the coming weeks.
“I can't even tell you how many thoughts and feelings were going through my head,” Reiter said. “I was shocked, excited, appreciative, and eager to name a few. To earn this opportunity after only two years of coaching with USA Hockey's National Teams is a huge honor.”
Working with successful coaches like Cole and Don Granato has helped develop Reiter’s coaching style just four short years after the 33-year-old hung up the skates as a player. However, none of that could possibly prepare him for the chance to work with a Hall of Fame defenseman in Chelios and a successful head coach in Wilson, who led Team USA to a silver medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics and ranks eighth all-time in NHL history in wins while coaching with the Anaheim, Washington, San Jose and Toronto.
“I've watched Ron have success at every level (World Cup, Olympics, NHL, World Championships) and hopefully that success continues at the World Junior Championships,” Reiter said. “Being able to work with someone with almost 20 years of NHL coaching experience is an opportunity that doesn't happen often. I'm just hoping to take away as much knowledge and information as possible in the short time that I am coaching with him.”
This will be Reiter’s first appearance with the U.S. National Junior Team. Previously, Reiter was behind the bench as the U.S. Men’s National Under-18 team won two straight gold medals (2014, ‘15), along with the Under-17 team that won the 2013 World U-17 Hockey Challenge. Prior to joining the NDTP, Reiter was a member of the Italian Men’s National Team in 2012 as a goaltending consultant.
While working with the U.S. NDTP, Reiter was able to gain hands-on experience with the future of USA Hockey, which played a factor into him being named as an assistant to Wilson.
“I’ve coached at all levels of the game while in the U.S. and Europe, but working with the U-17 and U-18 teams has helped me see how you have to prepare to be successful in short tournaments and what's needed to build team chemistry,” Reiter said. “I feel like I can relate and identify very well with these ages of players due to my work with the NTDP. A lot of these players will be on the World Junior Team.
Watching the competition the last two years in international events, I think that familiarity with not only our team, but also the opposing teams will be a benefit in coaching at this tournament.”
Before jumping behind the bench, Reiter played collegiate hockey at the University of Alaska-Anchorage from 2000-2004. Following his career with the Sea Wolves, Reiter had stints in the UHL, ECHL and CHL before catching on with the Fort Wayne Komets in the International Hockey League. His best year with the Komets came in 2008 when he backstopped them to the IHL’s Turner Cup Championship while winning the IHL’s Goalie of the Year award.
Now that he’s behind the bench instead of on the ice, Reiter still remains the intense leader that he was when the pads were on. But getting players to buy into his teaching each and every day has been the tricky part.
But if the recent success of the U.S. NDTP is any indication, the kids are listening.
“Commitment is the key word,” Reiter said. “The players have to be committed to working and getting better every day and they expect the same from you as a coach. My goalies know that I expect them to compete and not take a day, drill, or shot off. You have to be 100 percent committed to getting better each and every day.
“If not, you are cheating yourself and the coaching staff.”
The commitment to the game of hockey started at a young age for Reiter, who grew up watching guys like Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Tom Barrasso lead the way for the Penguins during their heyday in the ‘90s.
Around that time, Reiter’s father had Penguins season tickets, which allowed Reiter an opportunity to watch how the professionals do it.
As Lemieux, Jagr and Barrasso led the Penguins to back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, Reiter – like many other youth athletes in the area – gave hockey a chance, which led to a boom in the sport around the Pittsburgh area. More than 20 years later, that growth is paying off as guys like Gibson, Miller, Saad and others continue to reach new heights in the hockey world as former products of the Pittsburgh Youth Hockey scene.
“The Penguins’ success in recent years has definitely had a positive effect on the development of youth hockey in the city and surrounding area,” Reiter said. “I started playing the game due to Mario Lemieux and now Sidney Crosby is that role model for kids in the area. Ultimately, I chose to be a goaltender after I watched Tom Barrasso lead the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 1991 and ‘92.”
Put the pieces together comparing star power from those years to today’s Penguins, and it’s easy to see why Pittsburgh youth hockey continues to produce some elite players at all levels of the game.
With goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury being drafted first overall by the Penguins in 2003 backstopping them to a Stanley Cup title in 2009, more and more youth players have given goaltending a try in recent years.
Gibson is the first Pittsburgh-area goalie that comes to mind in terms of success, but others like Kevin’s younger brother, Kenny (NCAA title with Minnesota-Duluth in 2011), Parker Milner (NCAA title with Boston College in 2012), Michael Houser (first American to ever win the Canadian Hockey League Goaltender of the Year award in 2011-12), Brianne McLaughlin (two-time silver medalist with the U.S. women’s national team at the 2010 and ’14 Winter Olympics) and Jake Hildebrand (NCAA BIG Ten Player of the Year at Michigan State in 2014-15) have all made a name for themselves in the hockey world after developing their games in Pittsburgh.
Reiter gives a lot of credit to the Shane Clifford School of Goaltending, which has helped develop the talent between the pipes that has come out of the area in recent years.
With the opening faceoff for the 2016 World Junior Championship more than seven months away, Reiter is focused on evaluating the talent that should make up the 2016 roster, which will be full of players he’s familiar with.
He’s still out to prove a point, though, much like all Pittsburghers are.
“Obviously, you want to win and do well,” he said. “I grew up Pittsburgh and most of my immediate family is still there. I'm a product of Pittsburgh's youth hockey coaches and organizations. I take a lot of pride in that.
“I'd love to go to Helsinki, be successful, and prove to USA Hockey that they made the correct decision in choosing me to be a World Junior assistant coach.”