When Reese laces up his skates for the Penguins, he will be one of only four players from western Pennsylvania ever to play for the local team.
But Reese will be the first Jewish one from the area.
“It’s a great honor for sure, I’m just happy it worked out,” said Reese about being the first Jewish Pittsburgher to play for the Penguins. “I haven’t put too much thought in it, to be honest, but it is what it is.”
The Penguins went after Reese soon after free agency began July 1, and he accepted their offer that day.
“There were a few other teams in the mix,” Reese said. “I didn’t really wait too long in free agency; I made my decision two hours in, and a lot of that was based on talking with the staff. It just seemed like the right fit.”
Reese sees himself as a puck moving defenseman who can help the team on both sides of the ice. That is an important job in the system that the Penguins play.
“I think my game suits the Penguins style. They have a great offense and I consider myself a puck mover, and a puck retriever and a guy who is good at moving the puck to the forwards,” Reese explained. “With the firepower that the Penguins have I think my game fits the mold for the type of defenseman they’re looking for.”
Reese signed a one-year, two-way contract where he could be shifted between the Penguins NHL and minor league roster. Using his abilities to feed players such as Sidney Crosby and reigning NHL Most Valuable Player Evgeni Malkin could give Reese the chance to regularly be placed on the NHL roster.
This will be the first time that Reese will have the opportunity to play for a team that is expected to win. After being drafted by the New York Rangers in 2003, Reese bounced around several teams in the American Hockey League, the NHL’s highest minor league level.
“I haven’t really played for many winners in the minors and at the NHL level,” Reese said. “Here in Pittsburgh, it’s [a team] expected to win every night and a team that competes for a Cup year in and year out.”
Reese got his first chance to play in the NHL with the New York Islanders in the 2009-2010 season. In 74 NHL games, Reese has 17 points including three goals, according to the Islanders official website.
Born in 1984, Reese and his family belonged to Temple Emanuel in Mount Lebanon, where he had his bar mitzva. Reese grew up watching the Penguins and saw them in their glory days in the early 1990s. The Penguins teams that won two Stanley Cups motivated him to play hockey, he said.
Other Pittsburghers to play for the Penguins include Ryan Malone, Bill Thomas and Nate Guenin. Jewish players that have played for the Penguins are Brett Sterling, Trevor Smith and Justin Duberman.
“[The Penguins] are no doubt the reason I started playing, and it’s amazing to think that I’ll be playing for my childhood team,” he said.
Though Reese decided to come to the Penguins because he thought it would be his best opportunity to get the most playing time, coming home is an added benefit.
“It’s awesome to think that I could be playing in front of family and friends every night,” Reese said.
Playing for a familiar audience, along with a chance to win, is a possibility that has Reese elated.
“I think that it’s really exciting to know that not only are you playing with some of the best players of the generation, but if all goes well and the team plays well you have a really good shot at winning a Stanley Cup,” he said.
(Andrew Goldstein can be reached at email@example.com.)