Minnesota Duluth backup goaltender Nick Deery is "the best teammate you can ask for."
That's according to Bulldogs starter Hunter Shepard, who a year ago beat out Deery for the No. 1 job en route to an NCAA championship. According to Shepard, Deery is always there to push him in practice. During games, Deery is waiting on the bench with a fist bump and bottle of water during television timeouts.
Deery, a redshirt junior and mechanical engineering major, is also there when Shepard needs help with homework.
"I've had some math classes and some stats classes. I've definitely got some help from him," said Shepard, a true junior. "He's the go-to-guy on that kind of stuff."
Stocked with a number of NHL prospects - many of whom are underclassmen - UMD is expected to get hit hard by early departures whenever the 2018-19 season comes to an end. Last month the team learned of their first in Deery, though he won't be signing an NHL contract like the others.
The 24-year-old from La Crosse, Wis., is set to graduate this spring, and while he hasn't closed the door completely on continuing his hockey career, Deery is eyeing a more lucrative mechanical engineering job in either renewable energy or in auto racing.
With a career .897 save percentage and 2.46 goals-against average in nine games at UMD - including five starts - going into Saturday's 7:07 p.m. exhibition at Amsoil Arena against the U.S. National Team Development Program, Deery's pro hockey options will be rather limited.
Deery's pro auto racing options, however, could very well be plentiful. Hockey may be his sport, but auto racing is the Deery family business. His father, Charles, runs a raceway back in La Crosse and his grandmother, Jody, runs the oval in Rockford, Ill. Both are NASCAR-sanctioned Home Tracks.
Working for a NASCAR or road series team is something Deery said he may pursue.
"Most of (dad's) brothers and sisters, my uncles and aunts, are working in the racing industry in some way or another. It's a racing family, not so much on the racing part, but ownership part," said Deery, who enters this semester with a 3.4 grade-point average. "It's another big decision I would have to weigh between a job that would be pretty secure or fighting to still play hockey and live the dream."
Five years ago Deery was faced with a big decision. Division I Mercyhurst offered him a scholarship and a chance to compete for its starting job. The school didn't have an engineering program, however, and Deery had set a goal for himself at the age of 14. He wanted to play NCAA Division I hockey and study mechanical engineering.
Deery passed on the offer, returned to the Steinbach Pistons of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League for a second season and was named the league's top goaltender. It earned him a spot at UMD, where he could play hockey and study engineering.
There was one catch, however, with the Bulldogs. Deery would not be in the mix for the starting job. He would start as the third-stringer, initially behind senior Matt McNeely and sophomore Kasimir Kaskisuo.
Early departures by Kaskisuo in 2016 to the Toronto Maple Leafs and by Hunter Miska in 2017 opened the door for Deery on two occasions to compete for the starting job. He lost out on both chances, despite posting a 1.54 GAA, .934 save percentage and 1-0-2 record in a relief appearance and two starts during his three-way battle with Miska and Shepard in October 2016.
"I didn't come here expecting any of that. I was just going to be the third guy and play on the team and do school stuff," Deery said. "That door opening up for me was huge. I got an opportunity to play, which is something I'm very proud of, getting that ice time. I'm very thankful for that."
UMD volunteer goaltending coach Brant Nicklin said despite the setbacks, Deery never changed his approach in practice. Since losing out to Shepard last year, Deery has taken on a leadership role among the goalie group and is like a coach on the bench for Shepard.
"I don't think he's afraid to tell Shep during a TV timeout a thing or two if there is something he sees," Nicklin said. "That's something we've always preached to the goalie unit. Yeah, there is only one net, only one guy gets to play, but we got to find ways to contribute and be positive factors within the goalie unit and the team. Nick certainly exemplifies all of that."
In addition to being the shining example of a good teammate, Deery also exemplifies what it means to be a student-athlete. He said playing college hockey and studying mechanical engineering the last four years has been the equivalent of working two full-time jobs.
Deery said he spent almost every night last semester - minus game nights - in the library studying until midnight or later. When UMD is on the road, he's doing homework on the bus and at the hotel. He tries to give himself a break on flights, but sometimes the 6-foot-1 goalie is forced to work in a cramped cabin out of desperation.
Shepard has witnessed Deery's academic work ethic first hand the past three seasons and he said it's as impressive as the effort he puts forth on the ice - maybe more so.
"There's been times when we go on trips, we get to the hotel on Thursday nights and he'll have to write some ridiculous 8-10 page paper. He'll be doing that all night and I'll be sitting there watching TV. I feel for him a little bit," Shepard said. "He's a smart guy. He's probably doing the toughest schoolwork on the team. To get good grades and apply himself that way is nuts. That engineering stuff is a little over my head."