September 14, 2015

Erik Reitz

For a little bit it looked like the Minnesota Wild hit a late draft home run when they selected Reitz 170th overall in the 2000 NHL Draft.

Erik Reitz was a physical and aggressive depth defenseman for the Barrie Colts that season. He helped the Colts reach the Memorial Cup final, losing the final game to Rimouski, and was named to the Memorial Cup all star team in the process.

From there Reitz progressed by leaps and bounds. By his third and final OHL season he captained the Colts to the OHL final before bowing out to Erie. But Reitz impressed with his uncompromising physical play and reliable play with and without the puck. The Detroit native was named as the OHL's top defenseman that season.

Reitz was never able to turn that strong junior showing into a NHL career. He spent most of the next six seasons toiling in the minor leagues with the Houston Aeros, Minnesota's top farm team. He would only get into eight NHL games total over those years. He did not have the polished game to make the NHL level though he worked on his skating and puck skills everyday.

In 2008-09 it appeared Reitz finally had accomplished his childhood dream of playing in the National Hockey League. He made the Wild roster right out of training camp and played 31 games, and even scored his first goal and first assist.

By mid-season he would be traded to the New York Rangers where he played another 11 games before being claimed on waivers by the Toronto Maple Leafs. However he would never play for the Leafs as he suffered a season ending ankle injury.

The ankle injury really did a number on Reitz. Unable to find another NHL contract, he headed to Russia to play in the KHL for a year. He then moved to Switzerland where he had a rocky relationship with HC Salzburg.

By the end Erik Reitz had had enough with the life of a hockey nomad. He wanted to go home and make up for lost time with his family.

"I chased it. I did my absolute best," he said of trying to make it to the NHL. "Now, it's like I want to get out of this and be with my family more because that's the most important thing to me now. I want to make up for lost time."

He, like so many fringe NHLers and career minor leaguers, headed to Europe hoping for a big pay cheque before retiring.

"I'd have to play four years with the escrow in the NHL with what I made in one year in Russia," he told the Barrie Examiner

In Switzerland he did not make as much money, but had housing and car costs covered. That allowed him to take less pay and still cover expenses back home. His family remained in Naples, Florida, where he owned a condo. The nice thing about Switzerland was it was only an eight hour flight home, so he could see his family a little more frequently than when he was in Russia.

The family had planned on returning home to Michigan when his career was all said and done. He had opened up RockStarz limousine and party bus services, catering to weddings and events.

Erik also wanted to open a hockey school and help other aspiring young hockey players, whether it was helping them make the NHL or just become better people.

Reitz certainly gained enough life experience to help out youth of all abilities.

"My biggest motto has been 'I live each day like it's my last,' because you never know what's going to happen in this crazy world. Every time I go somewhere, I'm always positive. I always have a smile and you can't wipe that smile off my face because I know how blessed I am to be playing hockey, to see all these places and to get all these experiences, for sure."

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