By Andrew Miller
The Post and Courier
NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – Matt W. Reid got off the bus Sunday night, walked directly into Bruce Boudreau’s office, and told the Hershey Bears’ head coach he wanted to go back to South Carolina.
Nothing personal, Reid told Boudreau, he had enjoyed his three-game stint in the American Hockey League, but it was time for him to get back to the place where he belonged – the Lowcountry.
For the third time in his career, Reid had been called up to the AHL, and he could have spent at least two more weeks with the Bears making more than double his current salary with the Stingrays. But this wasn’t about the money, or the chance to play at the next level for Reid. It was about loyalty and making a playoff push in a Stingrays uniform.
“At first I think (Boudreau) thought I didn’t appreciate getting the chance to play up there,” Reid said. “He kind of looked at me funny. But after we talked for a while, he understood where I was coming from. I’m 28 years old. I knew as soon as they got some of their players back from the NHL I was going to be sent back down.
“I appreciated the opportunity he gave me, but in the end I realized that Hershey wasn’t where I belonged. I missed Charleston and I missed the guys on the team. This is my team.”
For the past two years, Reid has pushed himself in the offseason with grueling workouts to get bigger and stronger in hopes of making it to the AHL. Reid had been called up to Bridgeport earlier in the season, but he had been barely an afterthought for the players and coaching staff.
“Usually, they’ll fly you up the day of the game or maybe a day before you play,” Reid said. “You get there and you don’t know anybody or what position they play and then you end up getting a shift or two a period. Unless you’re a contract player, you’re not going to get a legitimate shot at making a good impression. You’re basically a body to throw out there once or twice a period. You play a game or two and then you’re usually sent right back down.”
However, things were different this time around in Hershey. Reid was able to practice for three days before the Bears’ first game. Boudreau also put Reid on the same line with former Stingrays center Joey Tenute. The two had been a potent force for South Carolina during the 2004-05 season, when Tenute had scored 34 goals on his way to winning the ECHL’s Rookie of the Year award.
“At first I thought (Tenute) was kidding with me,” Reid said. “He came up to me at the first practice and said we were going to be on the same line. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t wait to get out on the ice.”
There were plenty of other familiar faces in the Bears’ locker room beside Tenute. There were former Stingrays Maxime Daigneault and Deryk Engelland, along with current Stingrays Donny Grover, Stephen Werner and Kyle Wilson.
“It wasn’t like I didn’t know anyone and they didn’t know me,” Reid said. “I felt like I didn’t have to prove anything to them because I came from the ECHL. There were people in that locker room that knew what I could do.”
Reid made an immediate impact for the Bears. In his first shift against Manchester on Friday night, he had an assist on a Tenute goal. In the second period, Reid assisted on two Chris Bourque goals in the Bears’ 5-3 win over the Monarchs. Tenute finished with a career-high four points, while Reid finished with three assists.
“Having Joey out there made things a lot easier for me,” Reid said. “It was like old times. We still have that same chemistry we had when he played here. Chris is an amazing player. We all just seemed to click.”
The Bears beat Portland the following night, but Reid’s mind was already back with the Stingrays. The Stingrays had started a win streak of their own, beating Charlotte (6-2) and Reading (3-0) in back-to-back games. The Stingrays would make it three straight wins with a 3-2 victory over Reading on Saturday night.
“I called (South Carolina Stingrays coach Jason Fitzsimmons) Saturday night and told him to book me a flight, I was coming back,” Reid said. Reid talked with Stingrays team captain Cail MacLean on Sunday and joined the team for its games with the Everblades on Tuesday and Wednesday.
“If Matt had stayed up in Hershey the guys in the locker room would have supported him,” MacLean said. “I know what it means to get the chance to play up there. I’d like to think I would have done the same thing. Of course, it’s easy for me sitting here in Charleston to say that I would have come back, but if I’d been up in Hershey I’m not sure what I would have done.
“It wasn’t like Matt was playing on the fourth line and getting a shift or two a game. He was playing a regular shift with some pretty talented guys. That would have been hard to walk away from.”Battling Augusta and Charlotte for the final two playoff spots in the ECHL’s South Division, Reid and Grover arrived in time on Tuesday to play in the Stingrays’ 7-6 shootout win over the Everblades.
“We were thrilled to get him back, and you can see what he means to our team,” Fitzsimmons said. “Matt’s a loyal guy and he’s loyal to this organization. I think that means a lot to a lot of the guys in that locker room. They know what he gave up when he came back down here.”
Reid followed that up with a hat trick in the Stingrays’ 5-2 win over the Everblades on Wednesday.
“Obviously, Matt is a huge part of this team,.” MacLean said. “He’s a difference maker for us. I don’t know if some of the younger guys appreciated the sacrifice he made to come back down here. I know I do.”
In the end, Reid said the decision wasn’t that difficult.
“I could have stayed up there for two more weeks and made some good money,” Reid said. “But you play during the regular season to make the playoffs, and I came to Charleston to win a Kelly Cup. I wasn’t going to be on Hershey’s playoff roster, but I knew I could come back down here and make an impact and hopefully help us get into the playoffs.
“I went up to Hershey and put up decent numbers. I wasn’t a fourth line guy. I felt like I didn’t have anything to prove anymore. Walking off the ice (Wednesday) after taking two games from Florida, I knew I’d made the right decision. Winning those two games down at Florida was way more gratifying than the two games we’d won at Hershey.”