St. Cloud State men's assistant coach Nick Oliver has spent time talking with and recruiting Mason Reiners since 2019 and he made an unofficial visit to the school that season.
When the recruiting restrictions due to the pandemic eased this summer, talk picked up between Reiners and the St. Cloud State coaching staff. On Thursday, Reiners verbally committed to play for the Huskies beginning in the 2022-23 season.
"I thought it was the place for me and it was an easy decision," said Reiners, a 6-foot-2, 192-pound 20-year-old defenseman from Edina, Minn. "I loved everything about the school. The location is great and it's close to home. On top of that, the hockey program is fantastic. The coaching staff there formed a great relationship with me and I knew it was a place I could call home for four years.
"There were a few other options for me. It was definitely a different recruiting process with COVID (restrictions) for me last year. I knew as soon as I had the opportunity, that this was the place for me and I didn't need to see anything else."
Reiners is not a flashy player, but he is someone who is going to get a lot of ice time this season in juniors with the Waterloo Black Hawks in the United States Hockey League. He has played 107 career regular season games for Waterloo, the most of anyone on the team's roster.
"He's rock solid and at our level, he's going to do a little bit of everything," said Matt Smaby, who is beginning his first season as Waterloo's head coach and is a former pro defenseman. "He's really reliable, sound defensively and makes good decisions with the puck.
"He's going to be a guy that we lean on this year. He's going to play in big situations and do a bit of everything. On the personal side, he's a great kid. He's humble. He's got leadership qualities. He's more of a soft-spoken leader, but he always does the right thing and he shows up every day to work."
Reimers had 13 assists, 16 points, 44 penalty minutes and was a minus-7 in 51 games for Waterloo last season when the Black Hawks went 22-30-1 and missed the playoffs. In his career with Waterloo, Reiners has 26 assists, 29 points, 66 penalty minutes and is a plus-10 in 107 games.
"The defensive side of my game is what I focus on the most," he said. "The way I describe myself is as a defensive-defenseman for the most part. That's the biggest part of my game.
"My skating ability, moving the puck and breaking it out are my biggest assets that I use to help my team."
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Reiners got to Waterloo after spending three seasons on the Edina varsity team, helping the Hornets win the 2019 Class AA state title and take third place in 2018. His first two seasons in Waterloo, he played for legendary coach PK O'Handley, who coached 26 seasons in the USHL (including 19 with Waterloo), before retiring after last season.
O'Handley remains with the organization as its president of hockey operations. He has been replaced by Smaby, a 36-year-old from Minneapolis who played for the University of North Dakota (2003-06) and then played four seasons in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization before finishing his pro career with four seasons playing in Germany.
Reiners said he is enjoying working with the new staff. Smaby said that they will be relying on him for not only his reliability, but also for some intangibles.
"He has quite a bit of experience and we have a younger team," said Smaby, who has nine players on his roster who were born in either 2004 or 2005. "It's going to be him, specifically at times, that we're going to lean on and rely on to lead the way. He's got a lot of valuable experience.
"The way he approaches his every day stuff is a great learning tool for all of our younger kids to see what it takes and to see that there are no off days."
I am fired up to accept the opportunity to play for the St. Cloud Huskies starting next season! Thank you to my parents, my coaches and so many friends and supporters who helped along the way! #gohuskies🐾— Mason Reiners (@mreiners21) September 16, 2021
Potential battle for playing time
Reiners realizes his hard-working approach is going to be important when he gets to St. Cloud State next fall. Technically, the Huskies have five senior defensemen on their roster in Seamus Donohue, Luke Jaycox, Spencer Meier, Brendan Bushy and Nick Perbix. Donohue and Jaycox will both finish their available eligibility this season.
Meier, Bushy and Perbix could potentially come back next season because the NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility for players who played college sports last season. Ondrej Trejbal, Jack Peart, Brady Ziemer and Josh Luedtke would also have eligibility remaining, so the competition for playing time could be intense.
"That's something I took into consideration and I really almost enjoy that challenge," he said. "I think it will push me a lot, coming into college and having to fight for playing time every day. I think it will be great for me and push me to that next level."
And Reiners said that the coaching staff has been straight with him about what his situation will be.
"They're really not messing around there and they want to find the right fit and the right players," he said. "The success that they've had has shown that it's working for them.
"On top of that, they were incredibly honest with me throughout the (recruiting) process. They told me exactly what they saw in me, which is something that I loved. Just knowing exactly what they thought of me as a player and what I would be going into. It makes the whole process a lot easier."
Current, future teammate
There is a decent chance that Reiners will be joining St. Cloud State with a current teammate. Cooper Wylie, a 19-year-old defenseman from Stillwater, is beginning his second season in Waterloo after committing to the Huskies in November 2020.
"We played a good bit together last year and he was really fun to play with" as a defensive partner, Reiners said. "We had some good chemistry together as a 'D' pair and I'd love to play with him some more.
"He's a really skilled defenseman," he said of Wylie, who had 18 points and was a minus-3 in 52 games last season as a rookie. "He's an incredible skater, able to move the puck well and join the rush. He creates a lot of offense and, at the same time, he's responsible in the 'D' zone. He's the type of person you love playing with because he makes your life easy."
Reiners said that he plans to major in business and has been taking some online courses through Normandale Community College in Bloomington.