Part of the fun of following Nino Niederreiter on Twitter is the Wild sharpshooting winger gives fans inside access into his life during the offseason.
If you’ve followed Niederreiter at @thelnino22, you know how much of a tennis fan he is and how much he admires Roger Federer, his Swiss countryman and winner of 17 Grand Slam titles. So just imagine what Niederreiter was feeling when he tweeted that pic after finally meeting Federer on his “turf” of Wimbledon.
“So excited,” Niederreiter, who was with friends and NHLers Roman Josi and Mark Streit, said of getting to spend time with his hero. “He’s exactly the way he comes over the media. He’s so easygoing and just kept talking to us for 90 minutes. In fact if his management didn’t come over and say, ‘It’s time to go,’ he probably would have been there all afternoon talking to us.”
And just imagine what Niederreiter was feeling in that Aug. 20 photo of him being strapped to the upper wing of a 1940s open-cockpit Boeing Stearman biplane with 450-horsepower engines.
“Scared to death,” Niederreiter said, laughing.
Yup, six weeks ago, the Wild’s second-leading goal scorer last season took a ride over the Alps while … strapped on top of the outside of a plane. Seated on a chair attached to a pole, Niederreiter soared down the runway, took off and while exposed to the cold air and the bugs flew over the Alps for 30 minutes at roughly 130 miles per hour at an altitude of, let’s call it, “very high,” Niederreiter said.
“At the beginning, it’s a little nerve-racking, that’s for sure,” Niederreiter, 23, said. “You’re very high. Everything seems little, that’s for sure. The view and everything is just spectacular. You see all the Alps and the beautiful lakes.”
It’s called “Wing Walking” and it was Niederreiter’s latest adventure with the Swiss watchmaker Breitling’s “Transatlantic Flyers Club,” an exclusive group that includes Swiss NHLers Streit, Josi, Jonas Hiller, Reto Berra, Raphael Diaz, Yannick Weber and Luca Sbisa.
They participate in summerlong Breitling aeronautical events. Last summer, Niederreiter went sky diving and jumped in the front seat of a race plane.
This time, Niederreiter and his pals went to La Chaux-de-Fonds, got to see where
Breitling’s watches are manufactured and then headed out to the tarmac for some fun in the sky.
“You’re strapped on the pole and the wind basically pushes you in the chair,” Niederreiter said. “It’s not very comfortable, but it’s safe. We didn’t loop or anything. The only time it’s a little scary are turns. But the pilot can see you, and thumbs down means go down.
“I just love being part of this company. I’ve always been fascinated by planes, seeing how you fly and what you can do on them.”
Wild fans certainly hope Niederreiter continues to soar on the ice this season. Last season, Niederreiter became the first Swiss-born player in NHL history to eclipse 20 goals by scoring a career-high 24. He also had 37 points, six power-play goals, five game-winning goals and 149 shots in only 14 minutes, 33 seconds a game. He led the Wild with 155 hits and tied for first with four goals in the playoffs.
If the preseason is any indication, Niederreiter is poised to improve on those numbers this season. He scored three goals and had three assists in four games and will start the season in a top-six role playing the right side of Jason Zucker and Mikko Koivu.
It’ll be fascinating to see what Niederreiter can do with the increased ice time.
“I was definitely happy last year how it went, especially scoring goals-wise,” he said. “I feel like that is my strength, especially in juniors. Now I have to find a way to get more goals at this level, and I felt last year I took a definite great step in the right direction.
“This year, I want as many goals as possible. But you start with 10, then move on, hopefully crack 20 again and you never know what can happen after that.”
The theme of Niederreiter’s training camp was being a constant net-front guy. He wreaked havoc at the goalmouth, and a number of Wild goals were aided by screens from the 6-2, 211-pounder who seems so much bigger.
“That’s my bread and butter,” Niederreiter said of the net-front presence. “I have to make sure I stand there. It’s not always pretty. Shots hit you and you’re slashed, but I’m trying to create a lot of plays around the net.”
Niederreiter, selected fifth overall by the New York Islanders in 2010, never got his career started there. He scored two goals in 64 games before being traded to the Wild for Cal Clutterbuck and a draft pick.
His career has taken off with the Wild. He has scored 38 goals and has 73 points in 161 games, is on the Swiss cover of EA Sports’ NHL 16 (second year in a row) and might be part of Team Europe at next fall’s World Cup of Hockey. Niederreiter is best known in Minnesota for his two-goal performance in Game 7 against Colorado in the 2014 playoffs. One of those goals was a series-clinching, overtime winner that came off a scorching wrister.
This preseason, both in games and practices, Niederreiter has scored off similar quick-release shots from all over the slot.
“When I was younger, I had a Shooter Tutor [shooting target system],” Niederreiter said. “We lived on the bottom of a mountain [in Chur, Switzerland]. You don’t have sun for three months in the winter, so my dad would make ice in the backyard and I’d just shoot and aim pucks.”
Niederreiter is starting the season at right wing instead of his natural left wing. He loves shooting coming in on his off-wing, but it is more difficult making wall plays coming out of the defensive zone.
“I feel like it’s getting better and better,” Niederreiter said. “The offseason, I thought I’d probably be left wing, so you work on the wall a little more on the left side. Now all of a sudden I’m the right side, it takes little adjustments.
“But I’m learning, and me, [Zucker] and Mikko, we’re getting more and more used to each other. I think this line can be really good.”