The Rookie Round-Up gives ECHL fans the chance to get to know a rookie who has signed with an ECHL team for the 2018-19 season. This week, the ECHL spoke with Jack Riley of the Reading Royals. Riley appeared in five games for the Royals at the end of the 2017-18 season after completing his college career with Mercyhurst, but looks forward to getting his first full professional season underway.
Name: Jack Riley
Hometown: West Point, NY
ECHL Team: Reading Royals
2017-18 Team: Mercyhurst University (37 GP, 16 G, 15 A, 31 P), Reading Royals (5 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 5 P)
ECHL: You played a few games at the end of last year with Reading, but what should the Royals fans know about you as you head into your first full season with the team?
Jack Riley: I think last year they probably saw a little glimpse of it. I'm a hardworking player, I'm going to give everything I have, every single night. I'm one of the guys that will come in and play some good defense as a forward and just try to work on my game from the back end up.
ECHL: What made you decide to re-sign in Reading?
JR: Last year I spoke with the coaching staff there. Coach Macdonald told me what Reading was all about, and I kind of fell in love with it. When I got there, the guys were awesome. The team was great, the coaches were awesome, so I felt comfortable right away. So I felt that I might as well head back there and that it would be the best opportunity for me and my career going forward. So just basically feeling comfortable last year and knowing and having confidence in the coaching staff made it easy for me to decide.
ECHL: You had a great deal of success while you were at Mercyhurst and you served in a leadership role for two seasons while you were there What lessons do you take from that time to help you succeed in your transition to the pro level?
JR: Being a leader and a captain for the guys at Mercyhurst was an honor. I took away from it that being the middle man (between coaches and players) has value. Obviously players don't always want to go and talk to the coaches right away, they like to have that middle guy that they can go to. Just being there for support, making sure I'm saying the right things, just simple stuff like that. I think it's important to not just lead off the ice, but to be doing the right things on the ice. I take pride in that, making sure I’m doing the simple things, so I think that's going to be important for me. Hopefully I can carry that over and start my pro career off in the right direction.
ECHL: Even though you'll be kind of a rookie in the room, are you still hoping to serve as a leader on and off the ice for the team, for the Royals?
JR: Definitely. Like I said, part of being a leader is doing the right things on the ice. Just because I'll be a rookie there, that doesn't mean I have to be the most vocal guy, but it’ll still be important to do the right things on the ice. I think it will get the attention of some of the other guys and hopefully I'll be able to set a good example for what needs to be done.
ECHL: What are you most looking forward to in your first full season of pro hockey?
JR: Just the experience. It's different than college obviously. In college you're only playing 30-40 games a season. I'm looking forward to having the experience of a different lifestyle, and getting ready to make sure I’m ready to play three-four times a week. I'm just excited to switch over the lifestyle and focus completely on hockey. At school, you have to worry about hockey as well as school, so just being a pro hockey player where you can just focus on bettering yourself as a player, I'm really excited for that.
ECHL: Does it make you a little less nervous about the transition because you already have some familiarity with the coaching staff, the city, and some of your teammates?
JR: Definitely. I think that was one of the main reasons why I wanted to do it (sign a pro contract) last year, just to get my feet wet. I wanted to see what the program was all about. To sign with the same team that I was with last year, I think that's going to help big time. Knowing the coaches, knowing the players, but also knowing the style of play that the coaching staff wants you to play, it's definitely going to be helpful moving forward.
ECHL: From the five games that you played in 2017-18, what was your biggest take away on the differences between college and professional hockey?
JR: Coming off a playoff run in college, and ending the season and jumping right into pro, thinking about it, I was kind of nervous that it was going to be a lot different. It wasn't really that much different; the style of play, well, obviously everyone still goes hard. Guys are taller and a bit more skilled in the pro game. I think in college I think it's more of a grind it out game - you're only playing two games a week so I think you can afford to kind of go out there and run around for however long and make a lot of hits. I think coming into pro, I was able to have a little bit more time with the puck than I expected, but that's just the style of play. In pro, everyone's worried about being in the right spot and there’s a heavier focus on systems, so you can't wear yourself down when you play 72 games in a season. So just having more time with the puck was a bit surprising, but it definitely wasn't too much of a difference.
ECHL: What's one thing that ECHL fans might be surprised to learn about you?
JR: Some hockey fans may know this but my family is a hockey family - my dad, Brian, coaches at the United States Military Academy at West Point - he's coached there for a while. My uncle, Rob, coached there, my grandfather, Jack, also coached there. So my whole family kind of has been embedded in hockey - I've grown up around the game. My grandfather actually won the 1960 gold medal coaching for the United States in the Olympics. That’s a fact that some people may not know, but I’ve been around the game my entire life and my family is a hockey family.
ECHL: So you were born and raised in West Point, NY, and then your dad took the coaching job at the United States Military Academy when you were older?
JR: So I was born in West Point, I have lived here my whole life, except for two years when my dad was the head coach at Shattuck prep school in Minnesota. So I was born here (West Point, NY) and my uncle was the hockey coach at USMA when I was born and my dad was the assistant. So then in 2004, my dad became the head coach. So basically I was born here and I've been around here, West Point, my whole life. It's a pretty cool experience to be around the military academies.
ECHL: Being so engrained in it with your dad, uncle, and grandfather - what has the Army hockey culture taught you that you apply to your life and to your game?
JR: Watching the games from a young age made me want to be a division one college hockey player and a professional hockey player. Seeing the type of people that come in and out of West Point, it’s obviously different than seeing students at other colleges. It puts in perspective what type of people come in and out of the United States Military Academy and the players that my grandfather, uncle and dad have coached. Just being able to watch them and how they carry themselves on and off the ice, I use that as an example to base my work ethic off of. Obviously school is very hard at West Point, so being on the ice for these players is an excuse to let some steam out and get out of the classroom. On the ice, seeing how hard those guys work, just watching that from a young age, I was able to pick up on some of the simple things that are important for my own game, like work ethic.
ECHL: To this point, what has been the most memorable moment of your hockey career?
JR: Mercyhurst is in the same league as my dad's team (Army West Point) so we got to play them every single year. Last year it was the final time I was going to be able to play against my dad. Playing in Tate Rink, the rink that I grew up playing in, I knew it was going to be a special moment. I was able to score a hat trick in front of my family and friends and my dad on the other bench so that's probably the most memorable moment so far.
ECHL: Is there anyone that you model your game after would you say?
JR: When I was younger, I was a fan of a Zach Parise type of player but I think now, I don't know if there's a specific person, but I like to pride myself on being good in the defensive zone and kind of working on offense that way. Just trying to be a defensive style player is important – so maybe a Patrice Bergeron or Sean Couturier would be someone I compare myself to.
ECHL: How have you been spending your summer?
JR: I stay in West Point all summer. My dad has a hockey camp that runs for four weeks, so I'm able to stay on the ice and work the camp, that’s usually what I do every summer. It keeps me around the rink and on the ice and in the gym so I definitely appreciate that.
ECHL: Any last words as you head into your first full season?
JR: I'm excited and I can't wait to get it started!