Sports heroes can be found anywhere. Case in point: Nick Niedert, a 36-year-old sporting goods store manager who played the game of his life as the emergency backup goalie for the Reading Royals of the ECHL, a mid-level professional hockey league comprised of 27 teams.
Niedert ended the game with 38 saves, which helped the Royals beat the Adirondack Thunder 2-1 on Nov. 24.
Mere hours before that, he was behind the counter selling hockey gear in Western Connecticut. He had not played in a ECHL game since 2016, but when he got the call from the Royals’ telling him their two goalies couldn’t make the start due to injuries, Niedert jumped in his car and drove to Reading, Pennsylvania.
“I’ve been skating a little bit here and there,” Niedert told the Post Star. “The way the guys played tonight, especially killing all those penalties, they took a lot of stress off myself. It was 100 percent character. It was one of the best wins I’ve ever been a part of.”
And it helped the Royals rebound from an 8-3 road loss the night before.
“The buy-in was absolutely remarkable,” Niedert told NBC Sports. “Honestly, in 15 years I’ve played over 300-something games, that was the most impressive, complete game I’ve ever seen in my career.”
“IN THE MOST STUNNING RESULT OF THIS ECHL SEASON”
— Reading Royals (@ReadingRoyals) November 25, 2018
Niedert got his start in pro hockey in the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL) in 2004, and during his last ECHL game with the Royals in January of 2016, he played poorly.
“That was a nightmare. I was so disappointed with the way everything went that day,” he said. “It’s almost like it didn’t count. It was just an unsatisfied feeling.”
So, with redemption on his mind, Niedert was thrilled to get another crack at it.
“To play in a meaningful game in a National Hockey League affiliated league at this age… I’m 5-foot-8 from Iowa. It’s not exactly a hockey hotbed. I’ve been on borrowed time since I was 16 years old when I left home. All the stuff that I went through in my very, very, very extremely long career, it really was worth it [Saturday] night to see what the 17 other guys had to go through to get a win. … When you see guys getting banged up and you see guys getting the ice bags and you see guys fighting through being hurt, guys that are battling through everything, I want to be there for those guys, too.”
Although not a regular on the roster, who can doesn’t want that quality in a teammate? Add in 38 saves and a win, and it’s a storybook ending for an average guy who punches a time card.