SPRINGFIELD >> Tyler Riddle hates flying. He admits this as he recalls an especially grueling stretch of a hockey season where he would play 87 games, the same as his sweater number, across high school and club commitments.
It was Feb. 3 and his Springfield Cougars battled Garnet Valley at Ice Works. The Jaguars led the game 3-1 and 4-3 before Riddle took over. The reigning Daily Times Player of the Year scored four times in the game, twice in the third period. The hat-trick goal showcased Riddle’s next level ability. He collected a pass at the Garnet blue line, fought off two defensemen then buried a shot blocker side as he fell to the ice. The Cougars eventually skated away with a 7-4 victory.
The next morning Riddle was on a plane to Minnesota, a long layover in Chicago the source of his frustration. Riddle’s 18U Jr. Flyers team played Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine, the largest skating complex in the world with eight sheets of ice. Sunday night, there was another flight, another layover and finally, Riddle was back in Springfield in time for class Monday.
“Long, tiring,” he remembers. “Long, tiring.”
Riddle hoped to avoid such weeks when he informed head coach Phil Eastman in the late summer that he wouldn’t be playing high school hockey this season.
“(The Jr. Flyers) were either on a bus, a plane or driving five, six hours to Boston,” Riddle explains of his initial decision. “In my junior year, missing practices and coming late to Sunday practices from road trips and stuff. And then the beating I took last year, being hurt all the time. (My teammates and coaches) got it.”
His retirement from Cougars hockey lasted one game. Riddle returned for the final 24 contests and put on a show no one will soon forget. He scored 64 goals and added 38 assists for 102 points. Springfield, thought to be rebuilding, finished second in both the Central League and the A Flyers Cup.
For his individual efforts and contributions to a team that greatly exceeded expectations, Tyler Riddle is once again the Daily Times Player of the Year. Riddle, the only returner, is joined on the All-Delco Team by six newcomers.
His Cougars teammate Jimmy Schickling nabbed one of the two defensemen spots along with Ridley captain Nate Dunning. The Green Raiders, after a 19-2-1 campaign, placed four players on the First Team. Joining Dunning are goaltender Brendahn Brawley and forwards Michael Giampapa and Nick Catona. Haverford High’s Shane Moran completes the group.
The All-Delco Team and Player of the Year are selected by the Daily Times staff with consultation from area coaches.
Following the conclusion of both his hockey seasons, Riddle tendered with the Surrey Eagles of the British Columbia Hockey League. He’ll play in the Eagles prospect tournament in May before heading to the Pacific Northwest for the main camp at the end of the summer.
“If I go away six hours, I might as well go 42 hours,” Riddle said of his autumn destination. As one might expect, he measures distances by car ride rather than in frequent flier miles.
But with the Eagles, Riddle has a chance to impress college coaches as he competes in Canada’s top Junior A league.
“People ask me about schools and everything. I just want to play D-I hockey and it doesn’t matter where,” he said. “From looking at what I talked about with my family and what I talked about with the Jr. Flyers, that’s the route. That’s my ultimate goal, to play Division I hockey.”
There’s no denying Riddle’s work with the Jr. Flyers, and before them the Valley Forge Minutemen, provided him the chance to continue his career on the other side of the continent. He didn’t need to play high school hockey, he wanted to.
Riddle started to second guess the end of his Springfield career as his former teammates prepared for their season. He missed the annual Penn State trip and the unique camaraderie. When the Cougars opened the campaign by beating Penncrest 9-0, Riddle was a spectator.
“Me and my dad went and watched it,” he recalls. “It was kind of a feeling inside me that I need to be out there.”
A few days went by before Riddle texted his father, Tom.
“Am I making the right decision?” he asked.
“Whatever decision you make is the right one,” Tom responded. “You make your own decisions.”
It was all Tyler Riddle needed to hear. He suited up for Springfield’s next game against West Chester East and just 6:38 into the first period announced his return in a big way.
“I came off the bench, and one of the defensemen was behind the net on the goal line, and he tried to make a cross-ice pass to the winger,” recounts Riddle. “I stopped it on my backhand, pulled it back and shot it top right.”
He added a second goal against the Vikings before lighting up the rest of his opponents for 62 more. Riddle had four eight-point games and three seven-point efforts on his way to 102 for the season. In one eight-game stretch from late November to Christmas, he scored 34 goals.
But it wasn’t just his contributions on the scoreboard that set him apart.
“When I stepped in that first game against East, I didn’t want (teammates) thinking I was just the new guy on the team. I earned my three or four years here. I earned that,” Riddle said. “I felt like I had to lead and our coaches said the same thing.”
That leadership was never more evident than during the Cougars’ surprise postseason run. Riddle almost single-handedly defeated Ridley in the Central League Championship with two goals and an assist. His second goal, a laser from the top of the faceoff circle, beat Brendahn Brawley like a breeze through a cracked window. Although Springfield fell 4-3 in overtime, the attitude was established for the Flyers Cup.
Riddle had six points against Kennett, then an overtime winner to eliminate West Chester Henderson. In the semifinals, Riddle buried West Chester East with two goals, including one that he called the best of his career; a sublime pull-and-drag move that left everyone in attendance at Ice Line stunned. The Cougars won 3-2 to head to the championship.
“I mean, there was talk in the school about how good it was,” Riddle said. “It was one of those times where you can’t really remember it.”
The admission is one of the few times Riddle allows for praise. For as many accolades as he’s accrued over his career, he’s much more interested in talking about those around him. Riddle makes sure to name the three doctors who helped him battle through a deep back bruise during the postseason, Anthony Gagliardi of ATI, Dr. James Schickling (Jimmy’s dad), and Jim Gallo, Springfield’s trainer.
Riddle also lauds the efforts of his teammates, and lists a full family tree of supporters from his parents Tom and Denise to siblings Kyle and Allison to grandparents, aunts and uncles.
Then there’s Denise Mroz, a teacher who Riddle counts as a fan and mentor. All of them will be tough to leave behind as he heads out West.
Appropriately, Riddle’s last point of the season came on an assist to freshman Aiden Smith in the Flyers Cup final against West Chester Rustin. The former skated away with his arms raised as the latter chased him down. It was the lone goal in the Cougars’ 4-1 defeat. But to see Riddle celebrate, to later hear Spence call him the heart and soul of the team, was to understand Riddle’s love of Springfield hockey.
“Just thinking about (that loss) was upsetting. I’ll never put that sweater on again or play in front of all those people,” Riddle said. “After that game, sitting in the locker room, that’s when I knew I made the right decision to come back and play.”