David Hutchison | Jan 22, 2019 | 0
From Montana to the Calder Cup: How Tucson’s black ace found his path to the pros
Ty Reichenbach has been playing goal since he was four-years old.
His older brother Bo, also a goalie, strapped some not-quite-to-size pads to his shins and stuck him in net as soon as he was old enough to stand there and block the puck. Bo, now a Navy SEAL veteran and goaltender for both the US National Sled Hockey program and the USA Warriors team, preferred to play out when the siblings had a chance to go head-to-head at home; having a brother almost six years younger than him gave him the perfect opportunity.
Plenty of goaltenders start out this way, either the scapegoat for an older sibling looking for a shooter tutor or the unlucky second-in-line for all the absurdly expensive equipment mom and dad insist can’t go to waste when the older sibling has cast it aside. In Reichenbach’s case, it was a little bit of both.
Although he may have been an early starter, though, that first experience in goal wasn’t followed by years of meticulous coaching and summers eaten up by endless development camps.
As a matter of fact, there were no camps at all – not for a long time.
This April, Reichenbach (now 24, and coming off the end of his first full season of professional hockey) was called up by the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners as a black ace during their inaugural postseason run.
He’s third in the current depth chart, sitting behind starter Adin Hill and tandem backup Hunter Miska while the newly-signed Merrick Madsen finishes out his school year at Harvard with the Roadrunners’ blessing.
The Norfolk Admirals rookie standout had ties to the Coyotes organization through their respective coaching staffs. Roadrunners GM Steve Sullivan had played under Norfolk head coach Robbie Ftorek back during his days with the New Jersey Devils, getting direction from the bench boss both in New Jersey and with the AHL’s Albany River Rats prior to his rookie NHL campaign.
Knowing that Arizona needed a black ace and that Reichenbach had put up an incredibly impressive season in the ECHL, Sullivan and Ftorek worked together to give him the opportunity to join the Pacific Division’s top team for their playoff ride.
TEAM MONTANA HOCKEY
Reichenbach isn’t your typical black ace.
He didn’t come up through top-tier junior programs and expensive summer camps. He didn’t work with his first goaltending coach until his senior year of high school, didn’t own a new set of gear until he was well into his playing career, and was fully prepared to get a desk job using his Criminal Justice degree this past summer when his college coach instead gave him the opportunity of a lifetime.
It’s been a wild ride, and it all starts in the heart of America’s ‘Big Sky Country’.
Nowadays, the Vegas Golden Knights have broadcast rights in the state of Montana, population 1.05 million.
When Reichenbach first started playing, though, the nearest team available to him was the Colorado Avalanche, about eight hours away.
He and Bo got the chance to make the journey out to see the Avalanche a few times as kids, but they weren’t exactly living in the State of Hockey in their hometown of Billings, Montana.
“Growing up, I tried to model my game after… I guess Patrick Roy, and Dominik Hasek,” Reichenbach told InGoal, following a practice with Tucson’s legitimate roster on Thursday to give Hill a day of rest.
“I just kind of flopped around in the crease like they did, hoping I made the right stops and got in the way of the puck.”
He fell in love with the way that Roy and Hasek played, then moved his loyalties to the Pittsburgh Penguins – they’re now his team of choice – when Marc-Andre Fleury was drafted by the team in 2003. He meticulously followed Fleury’s development, watching the Quebecois goaltender adjust his game and add in control without losing his incredible agility and fun style.
Given his own patchwork style, he’s got a big sense of admiration for guys like Fleury and Mike Smith, whom he both draws upon when he gets inspiration for parts of his game.
Still, there were plenty of holes in concrete development when he made his way out of Montana.
When he first got a chance to work with Louis Guay, the goaltending advisor for Athol Murray College of Notre Dame, there was quite a lot left to fix.
That move to play high school hockey at the prestigious Saskatchewan-based boarding school was Reichenbach’s best opportunity to play hockey at a higher level.
While the state of Montana had nearly 5,000 registered skaters with USA Hockey for the 2016-17 season, they hovered right around 2 to 3 thousand for most of Reichenbach’s childhood – and an estimated 50 percent of those were adults. With around 1000 boys and girls of all ages playing hockey across the fourth-largest US state, there wasn’t an overly competitive development scene for him to be a part of.
“It wasn’t exactly… we called it ‘Team Montana’,” he explained.
“We’d travel to the other nearby states, like Colorado, and play the teams there. We definitely had some long trips there.”
Despite the lack of one-on-one training and meticulous development of the nitty-gritty fundamentals, natural talent got him a long way – and his development since then has only continued to help with what’s been a meteoric rise.
He and Guay worked on controlling his game, cleaning up his positioning, and slowly incorporating more refined technique as a high school senior at Notre Dame, adding new elements and cleaning up areas little by little to make sure the new information stuck.
Using that cleaner positioning, Reichenbach was then able to snag a spot on one of the SJHL Junior A teams for two years before heading to the NCAA.
His first year, he played Division I, but saw just six games for the American International College before making the move to Norwich University and Division III. There, he saw more starts, got to work with former NHL goaltending coach Cap Raeder, and witnessed his game flourish enough to lead his team to an NCAA DIII championship his senior year.
Approaching graduation, though, he didn’t expect to be looking for pro jobs.
“I majored in Criminal Justice with a minor in Spanish,” he explained. “I was kind of getting ready to do something with my degree.”
Then, Raeder told him that he’d heard about a possible job offer.
Initially, Reichenbach was supposed to go let the ECHL’s Admirals take a look at him to sign on that spring, but the team had already filled up their spots with other college players.
So instead, he packed his bags and headed for Roanoke, Virginia – where he became the sixth goaltender that season to suit up for the SPHL’s Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs under Ftorek’s son Sam.
Through three games, he put up a .929 save percentage, going 1-1-1 and allowing just nine goals despite facing a whopping 127 shots in the three appearances combined – good for over 42 a night.
His numbers were good enough that Roanoke protected his rights that summer, but Norfolk was still interested. So he packed his bags – again – and made the 4-and-a-half hour drive to join the Admirals at training camp.
One of the last players cut, Reichenbach was told that the team had too many goaltenders on their roster at the moment, but not to worry; they hoped to call him up from Roanoke sooner rather than later that year.
Five minutes after he left training camp to head back to the SPHL, he got a call to come back inside. There, he signed his first ECHL deal.
STICKING IN THE PROS
This past year, the ECHL rookie hasn’t had a regular goaltending coach to work with, but he’s continued to hone what he’s learned in the last few years.
“Working with Cap,” he explained, “he’s got a ton of experience in the NHL, working with those guys… that’s a ton of information, a lot of really good stuff to add to my game.”
And now, he’s taken a lot in while working with Tucson already.
From goaltending coach Jon Elkin, he’s been given the opportunity to introduce better post integration technique into his game; as a largely-formally untrained prospect, that was understandably his weakest area.
He’s worked on closing the holes he leaves when moving to the post, executing better angles for plays down low, and developing better awareness for just all that his body can do to help him make those saves.
From Hunter Miska, the backup he practiced alongside on Thursday, he’s picked up better tips on his lateral movement. The 2017 free agent signee for Arizona has one of the crispest skating games Reichenbach has gotten to work with, and he’s been acting as a sponge for all that the fellow NCAA product can show him.
From Adin Hill, he’s seen more of his own style in net than Miska’s; he still retains some of that athletic predisposition that he had in his early years, albeit with far more initial control. He has, though, been able to pick up some pointers from Hill on puck play, as the top Arizona prospect has been working relentlessly on that area of his game for the last few seasons.
It’s been an energetic environment to come into, he described.
The Roadrunners were off to a hot start in their inaugural season in the desert when team captain Craig Cunningham collapsed on the ice just before puck drop in a game against the Manitoba Moose. He had suffered a cardiac episode, and the long road to saving his life meant a leg amputation and a drawn-out recovery (not without its own road bumps) in the hospital. The team was left rattled and worried about their captain, and the tone of their entire season changed; they went from top of the standings to the bottom by the end of the year.
This season, Cunningham is a scout with the club’s NHL parent affiliate, and the roster has gotten an injection of new, young talent that’s brought back the energy in the room. Between Dylan Strome, Nick Merkley, and Lawson Crouse, they dominated the Western Conference and are just one win away from moving on to the playoff’s second round.
It’s not likely that Reichenbach will need to step out on the ice for the team in an official game situation, but it’s been an invaluable experience anyway.
“I watched Miska when we were facing breakaways at the end of practice,” he laughed, talking about some of the things he’s learned just from being a part of practices themselves. “The way he controls his depth, approaches those shots, I’m able to learn from those just by being there on the ice with him and watching what he does.”
He’ll take that new knowledge back to Norfolk next year, he says, where the team has protected his rights for next season. His .911 save percentage in 45 games was tied for 16th among all qualifying ECHL goaltenders, and was tied for sixth among qualifying rookies; on a team that lost more than they won, that’s promising news for a goaltender adjusting to a big jump from Division III college hockey.
“Even at the ECHL level,” he explained, “you’ll be standing across the ice from guys with AHL experience, even some with some NHL experience, so you get a lot of that competition and development from some really good guys out there.”
He’s not the first goaltender to say that the development for guys like him has reached even the second tier of minor leagues. Josh Robinson, now the goaltending coach for the Florida Everblades, told InGoal in the summer of 2016 that even ECHL experience can be invaluable for guys looking to work their way up team depth charts.
So far, only one goaltender from the SPHL has made his way to the NHL, as Scott Darling found himself making history when he skated out with the Chicago Blackhawks for the first time just a few seasons ago.
Maybe the ceiling is the AHL for Reichenbach, but hitting the AHL itself isn’t just a possibility at this point. After the way he played this year, expect to see the Norwich alumnus make his way up to an AHL affiliate sometime soon, and don’t be surprised if one of those teams gives him a longer look.
For now, though, he’s just soaking it all in, adding even more to his game. After the journey he’s taken, he won’t want to miss a thing.