BY RANDY SCHULTZ –
On a late Monday afternoon in early February, the Niagara County Girls High School hockey team skates onto the Hockey Outlet ice rink in North Tonawanda. Goaltender Annie Riek skates to the far end of the main rink to take her position in goal to begin practice.
At the other end of the rink the net is empty and will remain so for the entire 60-minute practice. No, the other Niagara County goalie isn’t sick on this particular day.
There simply is no other goalie. Riek is it, and has been it for the entire season. That includes 14 games and numerous practices throughout the team’s four-month long season.
Like “Three Dog Night’s” 1969 hit recording, “One,” as the song’s lyric states, “One is the loneliest number.”
So how lonely has Riek felt this year?
“Coming into this season I was just happy to have a team,” responded the Niagara Wheatfield ninth grader. “I’m happy just to have this opportunity.
“I was glad to have this group of girls and dedicated coaches come together to form a team and play hockey. And it has been great to have the wonderful support from the all the parents as well.”
It should be clarified here that the Niagara County girl’s hockey team is a first year team. The team is made up of players from the Niagara Wheatfield and Starpoint School districts.
The team is part of the Western New York Girls Varsity Ice Hockey Federation, now in its ninth season of play. But up until this season the other seven teams were all located in Erie County. Niagara County entered this campaign as team number eight.
The season has been a bit of a long one for Niagara County. Through its first 14 games of the season the team has yet to register a victory, going 0-14-0.
In that time Riek has played 617.17 minutes and faced 519 shots on goal, saving 388 of them. Not bad for a 14 year-old who has been playing goal for only three years.
“I started playing hockey when I was 11 and jumped right in playing goal,” recalled Riek, the daughter of Amy and Steven Riek. “I had been a softball catcher since I was about seven years old.
“So catching pucks or softballs, it didn’t matter to me.”
What did Riek think when she found out that she was going to be the only goaltender on the first-year team?
“At first I thought, ‘well at least there is somebody in the position who is able to be a goalie,’” stated Riek, who has a younger brother, Henry, who is also a hockey goaltender. “But now that I’ve been the only goalie for the whole season I’ve found that it is a lot of hard work.
“But it is well worth it.”
Despite everything, Riek is still very positive.
“My teammates have been very supportive throughout the season,” said Riek, who also plays hockey for the Niagara University Jr. Purple Eagles organization. “They are all hard working, dedicated players. I couldn’t ask for better teammates.”
Despite not having won a single game all season, Riek goes out everyday with the same enthusiasm she had on the first day of tryouts.
“I try my best to go out with the same enthusiasm, no matter what the situation may be,” commented Riek. “I try to give 100 percent no matter if its in a game or practice.
“I go into each game as being a new game. It’s a 0-0 score and we try out best.”
Riek admits that when she watches hockey games, no matter at what level, she is always watching the goaltenders. But over the past couple of years two in particular have influenced her a great deal.
“Kevin Bainbridge, the goalie for the Niagara Wheatfield boys high school team, has really helped me out quite a bit,” said Riek, who also plays softball and is on her school’s JV swim team. “I met him over the summer and he encouraged me to tryout for the girl’s team. He’s helped me so much.
“Plus my younger brother, who is also a goalie, has also influenced me quite a bit.”
Riek’s hockey coach with Niagara County, Greg Grosskopf, has been impressed with his goalie since day one of practice.
“The thing I like about Annie is that she has gotten better every single day,” remarked Grosskopf. “Any time you tell her to do something, she does exactly what you told her to do.
“She pushes herself and she pushes the team. Annie is a hard worker. She kept us in a lot of our games.”
The Niagara County hockey coach admitted that it was tough at times having just one goalie on the team.
“We had a minor plan set in case Annie ever went down or got sick,” said Grosskopf. “There was only once where she thought she was sick.
“But we kept encouraging her and she played. Luckily we never had anything really come up where we would have had to replace her.”
Grosskopf also talked about Riek the person.
“She’s kind of quiet,” stated Grosskopf. “But she shows a lot of confidence both on and off the ice.
“She’s also very smart and always eager to learn.”
Riek admits that she dreams one day of going on to play college hockey as well as going into a career in meteorology.
Riek has some advice for other girls wanting to play hockey.
“It is a wonderful sport,” concluded Riek. “What you learn, lesson-wise, from this sport you can apply to the real world.”