Goaltender awaits chance to become ECHL regular

Nick Niedert finished out the regular season with the Wheeling Nailers. (Candice Monhollan)

Nick Niedert finished out the regular season with the Wheeling Nailers. (Candice Monhollan)

It’s a well-known process in the ECHL that when a goaltender goes down with injury or is called-up to the next level, the team will either bring in an emergency backup or sign someone for a short-stint until the goaltender’s hopeful return.

For Nick Niedert, he’s filled both of those roles over the course of the 2011-12 season as his journey has taken him to three different teams in the league.

“It’s been tough,” he said. “Every time I get in the car and go back to Connecticut or wherever it may be, it’s not easy. It’s never fun hearing, ‘Our goalies are coming back. We have to let you go.’”

The 29 year old has spent time with the Elmira Jackals, Trenton Titans and is currently a part of the Wheeling Nailers. Some of those stints have been longer and more numerous than others, but he has received at least two starts with each team.

“I hung around Elmira and finally I got my chance to play,” Niedert said. “I got to play again, and their goalies came back and I was sitting on the bench and they let me go. Then Trenton picks me up right away and I got to go there and play in Cincinnati, come back and play against Wheeling the next night, and then got let go from them. And then back to Elmira, let go from there. Then I went here and have gotten a couple chances to play.”

Niedert hasn’t been able to stay long-term with any of the clubs, despite being able to put up good numbers. He has a 2-1-1-2 record with a 2.71 goals-against average and .898 save percentage.

“Every time getting sent down, it’s not because I’m doing something wrong, it’s because the contracted goalies are coming down,” he said. “With Elmira, they’re two of probably the best tandem in the whole league. What can I say? They’re better than me. I think that’s the frustrating part is that those two guys were so good and I wanted to contribute more and help the team more.”

The Iowa native got his first taste of the ECHL Dec. 9 in Florida as he entered the game in relief of the starter and played 17 minutes, allowing two goals on just three shots.

It wasn’t exactly the performance he wanted in his debut.

“I got torched,” Niedert said. “Coach [Pat] Bingham put me in. After the game, I was pretty [angry] and I called my folks and they’re like, ‘Hey, at least you played in the league.’ That’s not good enough. I want to do well in the league. I set my own expectations a little higher.”

After that, he did do well as on Dec. 21 he received his first of two starts in back-to-back games against the Nailers. Both ended in wins as he allowed only three goals on 49 shots.

His next start didn’t come until Feb. 10 with the Titans in back-to-back games as well. Once again, it was another long break before he was given another chance to play, this time with the Nailers on March 17.

Niedert, who has played in eight leagues over the last eight years, admitted that all the travel and constant movement from team to team began to take a toll on him.

“I was flying back to Connecticut to get my car and I didn’t know if I was coming back or not,” he said. “I’m sitting in the airport, eating dinner, and I called my folks and said, ‘I can’t do this anymore.’ I’m up, I’m down, I’m all over the place. It’s so exhausting. I was half an inch away [from quitting]. It was just getting old. It’s lonely [and] it sucks. I was really close.”

Niedert said he spent the next two and a half days thinking over his decision and when he called the Nailers head coach, Clark Donatelli, and found out he was still needed, he made his choice.

“Something told me I need to go back, just finish the year out,” he said. “Then I got here and I really liked it. I really liked the city of Wheeling and I really like the guys. It kind of rejuvenated me.”

Niedert’s passion and desire to play are seen each time he plays, according to Donatelli.

“He’s a great competitor and is a great guy to have on the team,” Donatelli said. “The guys really like him a lot. He goes out there and plays his heart out.”

Niedert agrees that he sometimes feels he has to play as if he has something to prove.

“When I came here, I know it’s toward the end of the season, and they’re signing college guys all over the place, and all I said was I wanted to stay into the playoffs,” he said. “If I went out Sunday and was garbage, [Donatelli] would have had a kid from some university. I wouldn’t be here. So the expectations are pretty high that I set for myself, but the team has high expectations for me as well.”

In a league that holds many NHL and AHL prospective goaltenders, it’s hard for a player like Niedert to get a chance to become a regular on a team.

“He’s just a kid who needs a chance to play and we gave him a shot,” Donatelli said. “It’s tough in this situation because a lot of these NHL teams sign five goalies and the fifth goalie usually ends up down here. But over the course of a season, he’s definitely good enough to play, there’s no doubt about it. He’s just got to be given the chance. He’s got me sold. He can definitely play in the league.”

As for the current Nailer goaltender, he’s never had a backup plan in mind and just focuses on getting another opportunity to play.

“I just wanted to do this,” Niedert said. “The part that keeps me going is the level it is. This is the best I’m going to do and I know it. This league is the best league I’ll ever play in. Being on the ice, that memory of getting out there and playing at this level, that’s what keeps me going.”


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Categories: ECHL, Features, Ice Hockey, Sports

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