By Ron Morris
© 2005 The State
COLUMBIA, S.C. – Brian Reaney pealed off his Columbia Inferno sweater perhaps for the final time Thursday night, having contributed solid defensive play in the team’s 2-1 victory against the Greenville Grrrrowl at the Carolina Coliseum.
This morning, Reaney wears the dress uniform of the United States Air Force at a stopover in London en route to assignments in Kyrgyzstan and Qatar. By trade, Reaney is a second lieutenant in the Air Force, stationed for the past two years at Shaw Air Force Base. By hobby, he is a professional hockey player.
“We talked about it,” Inferno coach Scott White said of a meeting with his team Thursday afternoon. “I told them Reaney will be here tonight, then he’s headed overseas. It was pretty quiet. They were like, ‘Holy cow, wow.’ It certainly puts things in perspective.”
As a financial analyst for the Air Force, Reaney will not see front-line duty overseas, but his current assignment clearly allows that he is an officer first and a hockey player second. Reaney and Inferno teammate Andy Berg were standout players at the Air Force Academy through the 2003 season.
Graduates of the Air Force Academy get to select where they want to begin serving their five-year post-graduate commitment to the service. Both chose Shaw Air Force Base because of its proximity to professional ice hockey teams in Florence and Columbia. Berg, also a second lieutenant, did not play last season and has skated 15 times for the Inferno this season. He remains on the team. Reaney played 30 games for the Florence Pride a year ago and saw time with the Inferno in 11 games prior to his departure on Friday.
“I never thought after college … that I’d get an opportunity to play professionally,” Reaney said. “Then, I didn’t really have any intentions of playing this year. I didn’t know that I would, or actually could. They gave me more responsibilities (at Shaw), so I just decided, hey, I’m going to hang the skates up and play just for fun.”
Instead, Reaney received a call in January from White, who told him the Inferno had several injured players and needed a defenseman to fill in. Reaney was ready to play, even though his duties at Shaw limited his playing time.
Reaney was unable to practice with the Inferno because he works a 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. shift at the base in Sumter. His job also prevented Reaney from traveling with the team. So, essentially, he played in home games and those within driving distance, such as Greenville, Charleston, Florence and Charlotte.
“We needed another body back there,” White said. “It just worked out he was available. He fit into the group. All the missed practices are somewhat forgotten because the rest of the team understands his role.”
White figured to insert Reaney into an occasional line shift on defense. At 5-foot-10 (while standing atop a telephone book, according to White) and 180 pounds, Reaney is small even by ECHL standards. But White says Reaney makes up for his lack of size with moxie and ice IQ.
As a result, Reaney played more than White expected. He scored three goals for Florence a season ago but never found the net with the Inferno. Typical, though, was Thursday’s game against Greenville when Reaney neutralized his zone on defense and maneuvered the puck in position for three shots on goal.
Afterward, Reaney realized he might have played his final game of professional hockey. His third tour overseas will include an analysis of finances at two of the Air Force’s 11 desert bases there. His whirlwind tour will conclude with a four-day conference in Atlanta.
Then it is back to Shaw by the middle of March, where Reaney again will await a call from White and the Inferno. By then, Columbia will be in the stretch run of the regular season, and the chances of needing a fill-in player are reduced greatly as the Inferno prepare for the playoffs.
That’s OK with Reaney, who never really figured he would play even a single game of professional hockey, anyway.