AL HAMNIK: Todd Reirden's career path smooth as ice

2014-03-01T19:00:00Z 2014-08-09T20:38:13Z AL HAMNIK: Todd Reirden's career path smooth as iceAl Hamnik Times Columnist nwitimes.com
March 01, 2014 7:00 pm  • 

CHICAGO | The look of absolute joy on the little boy's face gave off a warm glow Friday night at the ice pond in the middle of Soldier Field.

Travis Reirden, 12, was enjoying a family skate with his father, Pittsburgh Penguins' assistant coach Todd Reirden.

Nearly 24 hours later, the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks and Penguins would do battle in the NHL's Outdoor Stadium Series before a sellout crowd of 60,000 chilly fans.

"Travis got such a kick being on the ice and skating with the other players," Todd said. "We had a great time."

Do you remember this family? You should.

Todd Reirden was the region's first pro hockey player. His wife, the former Shelby Anderson, is a Valparaiso grad. She ran a hair salon — Locks of Fun — that's still there. Travis, their only child, was born in Crown Point. The Reirdens lived in Valparaiso for 12 years while Todd's hockey career blossomed.

They now live in the Pittsburgh area, the result of a hefty contract extension by the Pens, but their hearts have permanent residence in Northwest Indiana where much of Shelby's family resides.

In fact, Todd hopes to be a head coach one day, win a Stanley Cup, and return to Valpo at some point when he's finished chasing his dreams.

"We lived in Shorewood. That was our summer house," Reirden said. "I really enjoyed the people there and did some charity work, some golf outings. I love Valparaiso. It's a spot that's very comfortable for me.

"We'll all be back this summer for sure."

The Deerfield native coaches the Pens' power play, which is like being the co-pilot on a passenger jet. Lots of responsibility and pressure.

And he loves it.

"We've got some of the best players in the world with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. We have an excellent team," Reirden said. "We're working on something like 315 straight sellouts. It's an awesome thing to be part of."

Ask coach Dan Bylsma about Reirden's importance to the storied franchise and you may as well do it over lunch. This will take a while.

"Our power play has been at a pretty solid clip, 25 percent or more, the last couple of years," Bylsma said. "Todd is a huge, huge part of that power play in terms of setting the stage for those guys.

"We have great players. The perception is anyone can make a power play with those guys but that's not always been the case for our team. Todd has set a great stage, a great environment, for those guys. They're probably the most tenacious part of our team."

Reirden's 13-year playing career ended in 2007 after tours with Edmonton, St. Louis, Atlanta and Phoenix. He was suddenly at a crossroads.

An assistant coaching position at Bowling Green, his alma mater, opened the door to a successful path he's never left.

In 2010, he was named assistant coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins with added responsibilities and duties each season.

"I'm working with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz — who's a Canadian Olympic Team player — and Kris Letang, who was runner-up for the Norris Trophy last year," Reirden is proud to say.

"This is something that's going to prepare me one day for being a head coach."

The power play is continually under scrutiny, much like NFL quarterbacks and lead-off hitters. "It's probably the part of the game that gets broken down the most," Reirden noted.

"You need a plan that works well. So far, we do."

Entering Saturday night's hockey cold war with the Hawks, Pittsburgh had the league's No. 1 power play. It was No. 2 a year ago.

"We've had a lot of success the last three years since I took it over," Reirden said. "But ultimately, it's about winning Stanley Cups and that's what we're playing for this year."

The former Valpo resident will realize his dreams soon enough. Coaching talent is in great demand, like lower gas prices.

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at al.hamnik@nwi.com

Copyright 2014 nwitimes.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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