He may not have played in the game, but former Dundee Stars netminder Nic Riopel says his NHL experience will stay with him for the rest of his life.
The 28-year-old, who played for the Stars in 2012-13 season, was invited to be part of Tampa Bay Lightning’s pre-season game against Carolina Panthers as they prepare for the new NHL season.
He wasn’t downhearted about not getting any ice time, but he admits even when he was netminding for Jeff Hutchins’ side five years ago, Riopel was confident of realising an ambition.
“Even when I was at Dundee, I was always confident of getting to experience life with an NHL team and so far, my time there has been one of the best of my career,” he said.
“When I was in practice on Monday afternoon, I got a text from the GM asking me to be part of the Tampa Bay line-up against Carolina. It was emotional and a great moment for my family and I.
“It was a great feeling and one I’ll remember for the rest of my life. I’ve worked so hard for that moment and like all kids, it’s something I’ve dreamt of.
“When you get older, you see it get closer and closer. Sometimes you can go in another direction and I was fortunate to play in Europe during the lockout in 2012.
“I was feeling good just before I went on the ice. Going into the locker room to see all the pictures of the Bolts team that won the Stanley Cup in 2004 was amazing.
“Then seeing an NHL jersey hanging up with your name on it is so special and making the warm-up in front of 10,000 was just amazing.
“All you can do is take everything in like a sponge and absorb everything that’s going on around you. At 28, I know I might not have a lot of years in front of me so I made sure I enjoyed every minute.”
Riopel was named in the EIHL Second All-Star Team in 2013 despite the Stars missing out on the play-offs that year.
He went on to play in Denmark with Fredrikshavn then on to France with Rouen before returning to North America where he had spells with ECHL outfits, Norfolk Admirals and Rapid City Rush.
More recently, he played last season with Kalamazoo Wings although had a contract with AHL side Syracuse Crunch, an affiliate of Tampa Bay.
Riopel also runs an agency, who have former Dundee hero Felix-Antoine Poulin and this season’s Stars signing, Gabriel Levesque on his books.
He admits he kept a close on Dundee’s run to the play-off finals last year and believes they can do well under current coach Omar Pacha.
He added: “I was delighted for Dundee in reaching the play-offs last year and I wished I could have been there to see them. But I was pleased Felix was part of it.
“I still watch every video Dundee Stars put on Facebook and everything and followed them last year and them getting there was good for the league as well as everyone at the club.
“It’s a long season with new faces and a lot of the players brought in were by Marc LeFebvre and I think Omar is doing really well integrating everyone.
“So far, it’s looking good and along the season you can see the budget making a difference, but since I was there, the league has changed for the better.
“Teams on smaller budgets can complete well and I think it’s a great attraction for players which will grow more in years to come.”