Les Reaney is a hockey player with many reputations.
Reaney, the newest member of the Thunder, welcomes most of them, like that he is one of the Central Hockey League’s most identifiable players and that his aggressiveness makes him an enemy to opposing players.
There is one distinction, however, that Reaney dismisses, and it may be responsible for his motivation to hold on to the other things for which he’s known. After Reaney left Niagara University in the middle of his junior season to sign with Edmonton of the NHL, the coach at Niagara, according to Reaney, began spreading the idea that Reaney was overweight and out of shape.
A look at Reaney’s skills and statistics — not to mention his 6-foot-2, 227-pound physique — would seem to discredit the claims made by Dave Burkholder, still the coach at NU, but Reaney can’t shake them. His reputation for being consistently out of shape has followed him throughout his career and kept him from opportunties at higher levels of the sport.
"I just can’t tell you what happened there," Reaney said. "I don’t think I did anything wrong, but it happened for a reason, I guess. Even today on the Internet, when you Google my name, it comes up. I tried to go to Sweden to play there and that’s the first thing they did. They were just like, ’Your college coach has nothing good to say about you.’
"I’d never even heard about anything about having a weight problem before, but from that moment on, going forward it was always brought up to me. It kind of sucks."
The cruel twist to the story is that the perception of Reaney’s conditioning kept him from fulfilling the potential he had when he left Niagara during the 2007-08 season. He never made it to the NHL with Edmonton or anyone else. He was briefly assigned to the American Hockey League but never played a game there, either.
Reaney’s pro career has been spent exclusively at the Double-A level, most notably in the CHL with Rapid City for the last three-plus seasons. He was the best player on the Rush team that won the league championship in 2010, scoring 112 points in 81 combined regular season and playoff games.
The promise of that season is what made Reaney intriguing to the Thunder. Reaney didn’t play this season as he awaited a trade, and he got one when he was dealt to Wichita 10 days ago. He’s scored three points in three games.
"I think (previous success in the league) goes a long way," Reaney said. "I compete hard and I don’t like to lose. When it comes down to it, I’m going to try to bring it as much as I can every night. That’s how I play hockey is I play on adrenaline. That’s why I still play the sport. If I didn’t want to compete, I wouldn’t play hockey anymore."
Reaney’s competitive nature isn’t universally admired. He’s a fan of trash talk, and that doesn’t endear him to many opponents, especially in a league in which most of the players are aware of his style.
The Thunder has had its own run-ins with Reaney in the past, such as verbal sparring between Reaney and Erick Lizon. Now teammates, Lizon and Reaney will probably find that they have a lot in common and Wichita’s other players will likely be more accepting of Reaney now that he’s on their side.
"Me and Lizon had a good laugh," Reaney said. "We battled last year and I know he wanted to rip my head off. But that’s part of the game and that’s the fun part of it. That’s what makes it so much fun is that there’s no friends on the ice."
Reaney probably felt as if he had no friends off the ice when word began to spread about his perceived weight problem.
He has been out of college for about five years, but Reaney still hears about an issue he didn’t know he had. Reaney even tried to address it by using boxing as a workout technique in past offseasons. Nothing seems to have quieted his critics.
"It’s upsetting when I feel like I have pretty good numbers everywhere I’ve played," Reaney said. "I’m a big kid in the first place. I bring a physical presence to the game. I’ve never heard of such a thing, and it’s frustrating to hear it brought up all the time."