Editor's Note: Thanks to LHH user Francesca for the leg work of providing links, clips and translation of several items from Swiss media this summer about Nino Niederreiter.
What did Nino Niederreiter do this summer back home in Switzerland? Swiss media has the answer.
Nino Niederreiter: "Now I want to play against men"
Nino Niederreiter enjoys a special treatment that is not offered to every Islanders prospect. "And I appreciate it very much" he says. The Chur native spent most of last season with the Portland Winter Hawks in the Western Hockey League (WHL), one of the top three Canadian junior leagues.
Monthly an Islanders employee of the department for "player development" took a seven hour flight from New York to Portland, to look after him and to give advice - which went down to the smallest details: "I received for example, tips on how to behave in different face-off situations."
He also had contact with the General Manager: "Garth Snow asked after me several times by phone", says Niederreiter. The Islanders never told him what plans they have for him next season. "They let me just know that their expectations are high," says Niederreiter. Nino doesn't mind the pressure. After all Nino himself has only one goal for the next NHL season: "I want to make it this time and play the whole year with the Islanders."
"A year ago I could do it, now I want to do it," says Niederreiter. Last season, he could play the first nine games with the Islanders, then they sent him back to Portland. This was also due to the complex rules of the NHL. If a newly drafted prospect plays more than nine games, the three year entry level contract kicks in automatically. Since he was sent to juniors, Niederreiter is still bound to the Islanders for three years. Because of his age he could be sent back to the WHL for two more years. But he absolutely wants to avoid that: "I can feel it. In order to further improve myself, I now have to play against men rather than against juniors. Last season I could dream for nine games. Now I want to live it".
In Portland they would love to keep the top scorer of the last two years (94 goals in 154 games), but Portland's general manager and coach Mike Johnston knows that this is more wishful thinking than reality. "We have actually said goodbye to each other, they no longer count on me in Portland", says Niederreiter. He asked the Winter Hawks for the jersey that he wore in the final third of the last game - you never know ...
Power skating as a big help
As soon as he ended the season with Portland in mid May, he began to work towards his big goal. Instead of immediately returning to Switzerland, he remained for two more weeks in Portland and completed a power skating training camp - on his own initiative. "I kept hearing that my skating has room for improvement. That's why I started to work right there. If I can get half a second in the corners, that's a lot". The Islanders were pleased to note this. "They see that I really want to be better", says Niederreiter.
The ten days of special training already bore fruits, also thanks to an accurate video analysis: "We found, for example, that I did not use the whole foot when pushing". As every detail counts, Niederreiter will be back in Portland in August for 14 additional days of power skating. After that, he will fly to New York for the first of two Islanders training camps.
When the Islanders sent him back to juniors last season Niederreiter knew it was probably the best for his development. Still, he glanced now and then with some sadness towards the NHL. Five other players from the 2010 draft debuted last season, but they could all stay with their team the whole season. Niederreiter however, wants to put things into perspective: "I'm the youngest of those six players. I've talked to Burmistrov and he didn't always have an easy time as he was often used on the fourth line. And even Seguin had a difficult year, he was a healthy scratch more than once. I preferred to play often and with a lot of ice time in Portland. Skinner on the other hand doesn't fall in this category. The Canadian scored 31 goals in his first NHL season for the Carolina Hurricanes. He had a fantastic season and I don't begrudge him. But his situation doesn't compare with mine: he could often play on the first line next to a top center like Eric Staal."
A good feeling
Since NHL rules forbid to call up demoted junior players, Nino Niederreiter had to focus on smaller targets after his return to Portland. I asked myself: "What can I learn here? I set the goal on improving myself, especially in leadership." He thinks he succeeded. And not only that: "Physically, I feel very good and my condition is at a good level."
All this and the willingness to work harder than ever on himself, make Niederreiter confident he will make the Islanders next season. That would be a reward for many deprivations: "I had to give up a lot." In the US drinking age is 21 (my note: here meant as age you are allowed to hang out at a bar), but that's not the reason he couldn't go out at night: "There is simply no time. So you can't find many friends. The team is like your family, with whom you spend the whole time."
Provided he makes it in New York, Niederreiter's new home will be on Long Island. One more reason to give everything for the big dream: "Long Island is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen." Even Niederreiter knows about the bad reputation of the, for NHL standards, outdated Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the home arena of the Islanders. But he does not accept those concerns: "The visiting teams always just see the arena and the parking lot, they don't get to see the rest of the island." Niederreiter's gut tells him that he will soon live on Long Island. "I have a different feeling as a year ago, a better feeling."
A good suit, that's enough
The National Hockey League is not only the best hockey league in the world, in the NHL you can also earn the most money. High drafted prospects like Niederreiter sign automatically a highly endowed three-year contract, in Nino's case 2.825 million dollars per season. Does this mean Niederreiter earned all this money last season? No. The sum is made up as follows: 810'000 $ salary, 90'000 $ signing bonus and up to 1.925 million dollars other bonuses. He received only following sums: the 90'000 $ signing bonus and around 90'000 $, roughly a ninth of his basic wage. This, because the salary is paid in proportion to the number of days that the player has effectively spent with the team during regular season: Niederreiter has been with the Islanders only 21 days (nine games) of possible 186. Taking into account that NHL players "lose" almost half of their income through taxes, Niederreiter only earned 110'000 $ not 2.825 million dollars.
How did he spend his first earnings? "I bought a Powerplate, a fitness machine, for my family. I also paid my parents' travel expenses, when they visited me in North America. For me, I bought a good suit. That was enough, I didn't want to throw everything out of the window.
Hallenstadion in Chur: where it all began
Nino visited his old arena before summer prospects camp. The video can be found at this page
If it's not there anymore, browse the following pages, it may have slipped down a bit.
In a nutshell:
- He went there as a child to see hockey games with his father. His favorite players where Harijs Vītoliņš, Bill McDougall and a player whose name I couldn't understand (Jonas Widtehalber?). He wore number 11 as a child in honor of Jonas the unknown. EDIT: It's Johan Witehall (thank you Kaonashi)
- The janitor knows him since he was a child. He thinks Nino is a well mannered guy and is sure he will be a good hockey player.
- 13-year old Nino and his coach did the carpentry work in the locker room. He didn't know at the time, but he would never use it. He transferred to HC Davos the same summer. The coach promised him his place in the corner would never be used by anyone. He kept his promise ... a fridge is now there.
- DiPietro, Weight and Tavares received him very well.
- Outside of the arena you can see the Calanda Mountain. The water from the mountain is used to brew Calanda beer. He enjoys a Calanda every now and then (drinking age for beer and wine is 16 in Switzerland).
Eishockeylager in Lenzerheide
Renato Tosio, now 46, is a Swiss goaltending legend. For me he will always be "the Goaltender". The guy even managed to play 713 NLA games in a row, during 16 years, without missing one due to illness or injury.
I found some videos of Nino at the camp on youtube:
I go out only in a controlled manner
Nino Niederreiter, why are you already traveling back to the US tomorrow?
I will participate at a power skating camp in Portland. I will then travel to New York August 14 and train with the Islanders' fitness coach until camp begins.
You have trained hard in Switzerland. I can see at first glance you gained muscle mass...
That's what I have to do to establish myself. It was therefore a very important summer for me. I made the weight training with my uncle, a former weightlifter. Additionally, I took Yoga lessons with my aunt and worked on my speed with EHC Chur coach Marco Pargätzi.
In which domains do you need to improve in order to make it into the NHL?
Everywhere, but I put much emphasis on skating, because until now I was only an average skater. Getting faster will also benefit my technique.
What are your goals for the season?
The nine NHL games I could play last season, were a nice first step. But in life you want to advance, my goal is to play again 9 NHL games and possibly more.
You act very mature for your age. Do you sometimes party like other 18-year-olds?
I like to play sports with friends: tennis, golf, minigolf. I'm always in movement. But yeah, every now and then I go out. But only in a controlled manner, I don't need a step back.