HOW NINO NIEDERREITER GETS AN EDGEDevelopment assisted by Swiss-based "mental coach"

9:30 pm: If Nino Niederreiter develops into the first line wing the Islanders project him to become, the player and the team will owe thanks to Rita Sutter.

Sutter is the 19-year-old’s “mental coach” (Niederreiter’s term of choice). Based in the player’s native Switzerland, Sutter helps Niederreiter in sessions over the phone, via email and in person with his focus, relaxation, confidence and competitive spirit. She is not a doctor, but a professional more commonly referred to in America as a life coach. The fine-tuning of mental skills famously worked for Oprah Winfrey; certainly it could increase the production of a talented teenage hockey player.

“Rita has been fantastic for me,” Niederreriter told Point Blank last season. “In the beginning, I really had no idea what a mental coach did or if there was any way she could help me. But Rita has been a big part of my success. I’m glad I took the recommendation to see her.”

Who did the recommendation come from?

“My mother,” said Niederreiter, who scored two goals tonight off assists by Ryan Strome in the Islanders’ 8-5 rookie game loss to the Bruins on Monday at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. “I didn’t think it was a good idea. I resisted. But Mom had heard about mental coaches and thought someone like Rita could be a big help to me as I tried to improve my hockey. I also had a lot ahead of me, like moving to the U.S. from Switzerland. Mom was right.”

Sutter provided guidance when the 6-2 wing relocated to Portland as a 17-year-old to start his education as a North American hockey player in the Western Hockey League. Niederreiter’s personal coach is there for him when he needs to break a scoring slump. She is someone to lend an ear, but Sutter also does a lot of talking when necessary.

Travis Green, the former Islanders center, played one season in Switzerland after 14 in the NHL and before taking the job as the assistant coach/assistant general manager of Niederreiter’s junior team in Portland. Green, who called his time in Switzerland “an incredible learning experience,” said the Swiss place a strong emphasis not just on skating and conditioning, but on the mental aspects of the game.

“Several of the Swiss and other European players had personal coaches,” said Green, entering his third season in Portland. “I think it’s a great idea. It’s important for players to have someone to talk to, maybe someone who’s not a teammate or a coach. Nino’s obviously come a long way in his teenage years, so it’s apparent the extra preparation has been important.”

Niederreiter believes in Sutter so much, he asked her to come to New York last summer for two weeks of sessions before the start of his first Islanders training camp. “It was a big help,” said Niederreiter. “I shouldn’t get into too many details. She got me prepared, focused, ready.” It worked. Niederreiter made a strong enough impression on the Islanders to entice management to put him on the NHL roster for the first nine games of 2010-11.

Many professional sports teams have psychologists on staff. The doctors are usually made available to players upon their request, or at the urging of the general manager or head coach when they believe intervention is required. Few NHLers have employed someone for the kind of one-on-one guidance like Sutter has provided to the fifth overall pick in the 2010 draft.

The polite but aggressive, respectful but extroverted Niederreiter has developed as a man and athlete at a rate beyond his years. (He just turned 19 on Thursday). Naturally, the guidance of his parents has been paramount. But the results are also a testament to his mother’s advice to hire a personal coach. As Mike Johnston and Green did in Portland and Jack Capuano will soon with the Islanders, Rita Sutter has been instrumental in the maturation of a young man with a lot of potential.

Bruins 8 Islanders 5

It was a rookie game with players of hugely varying degrees of potential and experience, so – win or lose – it’s always a mistake to make too much of the contest. Besides Niederreiter’s two, the Islanders got goals by Calvin de Haan, Kirill Kabanov and John Persson. Mikko Koskinen had a rough night in goal, but this too shall pass.

Rhett Rakhshani left the game with a concussion after absorbing a big check and will be re-evaluated Tuesday.

Monday’s rookie game, as with all training camp workouts, was closed to the general public. However, the game on Tuesday at the Coliseum is open to fans for the cost of a $10 ticket. Proceeds go to the Islanders Children’s Foundation.