GLENS FALLS — The best thing that can be said of the Adirondack Thunder’s Eric Neiley is that he’s always there — wherever “there” is at the moment.
Often it’s near the puck, which explains the forward’s 10 goals and 12 assists in 27 games — his 22 points tie him for the team lead. Sometimes it’s in the corners or in an opponent’s personal space, which explains why he’s dropped the gloves a few times this season. His 50 penalty minutes also is a team high.
He had a goal and two assists in the team’s first win over Reading this season on Sunday. He had a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” (a goal, an assist and a fight) in the team’s 4-3 loss to Worcester last Friday, and has come close to it a few other times this season. What all opponents will agree upon, though, is that they see a lot of number 59 when they play the Thunder.
And so does Thunder coach Brad Tapper.
“He’s a low-maintenance guy that works hard,” Tapper said. “I think every coach likes those guys. He goes to the gritty areas. He’s not afraid to stand with guys who have 4, 5 inches on him and probably 20 pounds. He is a thick kid, a strong kid.
He’s a quiet leader,” Tapper added. “He will stick up for his teammates. What coach would not like a player that does that?”
“I think it’s always a good thing whenever the other team doesn’t want to play against you,” Neiley said. “They always say, ‘good guy to be on your team, not a good guy to play against,’ and that’s kind of the role I try to play. That sort of style leads toward being around the puck, scoring — the fights are what they are, but it happens when you try to play that way.”
Neiley, a 25-year-old who played collegiately at Dartmouth, spent most of the last two seasons with fellow ECHL club Atlanta. He had a career-high 47 points (27 goals, 20 assists) and 96 penalty minutes in 61 games last season.
Neiley said he wants to be known as the type of player who is always going.
“I might not have the most skill out of anybody on the team, or the hardest shot or the best hands, but I’m going to try to bring as much energy as I have. Always know you can try to get the most out of me every shift,” Neiley said.
Tapper knows there are deficiencies to Neiley’s game, just the same as anyone at this level. What makes Neiley stand out is that he takes criticism well and responds appropriately.
In the end, though, Neiley always seems to bring one of Tapper’s favorite phrases: a high compete level.
“His style, the way he plays, the tenacity, it’s infectious to the rest of the guys in the room,” Tapper said. “And if he competes like that and he sees another player not competing like he is, he can say to them, ‘man up and let’s go.’ Because he has that will, that power, that strength to get it done on the ice.”