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The road to success is often unkind. It offers criticism, pain, and doubt. On the other hand, it can provide greatness, humility, and outstanding opportunities when given the chance.
Kenny Reiter is no stranger to this journey.
“I owe a debt of gratitude to a lot of people,” Reiter said. “I’ve been passed over and I’ve been traded. But I wouldn’t change a thing about those experiences.”
What makes his success unique is how he obtained the status of one of only two three-time WCHA Defensive Player of the Week recipients in 2011-12; he owns the sixth best winning percentage in the country at the moment (.697 off a 20-7-6 record); he is fourth nationally in victories (a career-best 20); and, he has logged the 11th most minutes of any NCAA puck-stopper (1,962:27).
Against league competition, he compiled 2.58 goals against average, a .904 saves percentage, and a 15-7-5 record in league play while backstopping the Bulldogs to their highest WCHA finish since 2003-04.
Reiter started 27 of UMD's 28 WCHA engagements and earlier this season set a team record for consecutive shutout minutes (166:45 from Nov. 4-12), having graduated with a 3.5 GPA in 2011 with a degree in finance, and currently pursuing an MBA through UMD’s Labovitz School of Business and Economics.
The success is sweet, but it’s the story—the hockey player who went from no one, to elite Bulldog—that completes the portrait of an athlete who made it to the top while keeping life in the balance.
“When I was 15, I left home,” Reiter said. “The hockey atmosphere in Pittsburgh isn’t conducive to developing players and if you want to succeed in hockey, you have to develop.”
So began an adventure that would find Reiter playing for five different junior hockey teams in just as many states. “It was hard at times. Really hard. But I had an internal drive to not only prove to people who passed me over, but to prove to myself that I was a good hockey player,” he said.
The highlight of each move, besides playing hockey, was the introduction to different families. “I would live with a different family in each state, we called them “billet families”— host families. The relationships I developed were incredible. The siblings saw me as their ‘big brother’ and that meant a lot to me.”
One family had a son with fragile X syndrome. “We really bonded," said Reiter. "He was a neat kid and he really looked up to me.” And another family turned out to be Reiter’s inspiration and the key to his understanding of the business of athletics. “Mike Matheny, ex-ball player for the St. Louis Cardinals for about eight years, went on to play for San Francisco. He is now the current manager for the Cardinals. I played ball as a kid and having Mike and his family as my host family was great. I learned a lot from him about the game, especially the business aspect.”
While living at the Matheny household, Reiter also received what he felt, at the time, as the hardest blow to his hockey playing experience. “I was called into the coach’s office with another teammate. My coach had two goalies and he thought I should be the one to go. I was traded to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. That was tough. I arrived in Alaska in December,” he said with a laugh. “December.”
At 40-below, Reiter would step off the plane and into a community where there wasn’t much else to do but play hockey. “My love of the game spurred me on and today, I see that trade as the best thing that ever happened to me. Fairbanks is connected with the hockey community, including UMD, and that’s how I ended up playing here.”
Even though Reiter is a native of Pittsburgh, he felt a draw to the Duluth area when he was 15 years old. “Thanksgiving Day, my brother was playing WCHA for Anchorage, Alaska. My entire family flew to the DECC to watch him play. I fell in love with the atmosphere of the DECC, the feel of college hockey. It became my goal to play in that league.”
Little did he know that he would not only play in the league, but he would win in the league. “Who knew everything would turn out this way?” he said with a smile. “I certainly didn’t know that my future would actually match my goals.”
Reiter’s focus, determination, and unwavering sense of purpose resulted in college career statistics that are a testament to his perseverance. But even after his recruitment by then UMD assistant coaches Steve Rohlik and Lee Davidson, it would be a long road before he played on the ice for the Bulldogs. “Alex Stalock was starting goal-tender during my freshman year. He was a draft pull for the San Jose Sharks, but he had an impressive resume before college. When you’re that good, someone like me has far less opportunity to be on the ice.”
Instead of dwelling on the frustrating fact that he wouldn’t play as much as he had hoped, Reiter took the opportnity to learn everything he could by watching Stalock. “I took note of what he did right—which was a lot—and I worked on my game.”
During that first year, Reiter also became familiar with the mental and physical challenges of college hockey. As a faster and higher intensity game, it wasn’t a simple adjustment, according to Reiter. “Until you’re out on the ice, it’s hard to fully comprehend just how much faster you have to play. Being a goalie is mostly cerebral, and keeping that mental focus during the game is an incredible challenge. It’s also why I like being a goalie.”
While playing hockey and attending classes at UMD, Reiter pursued an undergraduate degree in finance with a 3.5 GPA, graduating in 2011. “I like numbers, I like finance,” Reiter said. “My undergraduate experiences at UMD have been amazing. The support system is incredible. The advising staff, most notably Candace Furo and Tracey Bogen, have been so important because they helped me plan my class schedule ahead of time to ensure that I would stay on track with my classes. I have to credit the LSBE faculty as the biggest support to my academics. They are first-rate."
Reiter also lends credence to the unique value in which UMD faculty are willing to conduct face-to-face conversations about career opportunities after graduation, and what Reiter should expect after his hockey career. At the same time, Reiter acknowledges that "the faculty hold the same high expectations for athletes as they do for any other student. Because of this, student athletes don't slack off. You realize that you have to put in just as much effort away from the rink as you do at the rink. Our coaches have reiterated this message. We have a large responsibility as students, athletes, and representatives of our university and community.”
When considering his future, Reiter has a number of open doors leading to bright opportunities. “I’m working on my MBA, playing my fifth year for UMD, and if I have an opportunity to continue my hockey career, I will pursue it. Here or abroad, I will pursue it.”
Photography by Brett Groehler, March 2012
Written and Designed by Christiana Kapsner, March 2012
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