Tough guy Nate Kiser admits his weakness

Former South Carolina Stingrays defenseman Nate Kiser is the club's all-time leader with 1,131 penalty minutes. Staff/File.

There isn't much that frightens South Carolina Stingrays defenseman Nate Kiser.

He's one of the ECHL's most respected tough guys, a reputation he's earned with nearly 100 fights in six years of professional hockey.

"Not many guys in the league command the kind of respect that Nate has built up over the years," Stingrays head coach Jared Bednar said. "I can't think of many guys in the league that are tougher than Nate."

But even tough guys have their weaknesses. For Kiser, it's flying.

And therein lies the problem for the Stingrays' assistant captain. On Wednesday, Kiser and the Stingrays will board an airplane for the 4,500-mile flight to Anchorage, Alaska, to play the first two games of the Kelly Cup finals this weekend.

Kiser is thrilled to be playing for his first ECHL championship trophy, but he'd rather do it with his feet as close to the ground as possible.

"I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to the 17-hour flight and the 14 different planes we're going to take," Kiser said with a chuckle after the Stingrays' practice Monday morning

"It's not that I've never flown before, I've been on plenty of flights, its just that I'm not a big fan of flying. If I can drive, I'll drive and I don't care how long the trip takes."

The Stingrays have been to Anchorage once this season. Back in October, just a week into the Stingrays' preseason training camp, the team traveled to Alaska for two games. Kiser opted out of the trip.

"I had better things to do back home," Kiser said. "There was a lot of work around the house that needed to be taken care of."

As fate would have it, Kiser gets another chance to make the trip.

"Just my luck," he said.

Kiser joins a long list of celebrities and athletes with an aversion to flying. Wayne Gretzky and John Madden were notorious for their fear of flying. On Monday, ESPN announced that Tony Kornheiser was leaving the network's Monday Night Football broadcast team. Kornheiser cited a fear of flying in his decision to leave after three years.

"I know it's pretty common," Kiser said.

Kiser's last flight was two years ago when he honeymooned on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia.

"There was no getting out of that one," he said. "It's not like you can drive from Michigan to St. Lucia."

Kiser, who said he doesn't plan on taking anything to calm his nerves during the flight, looked into other travel options.

"If it was up to me, (Stingrays athletic trainer) DJ (Church) and I would be in a van right now headed to Anchorage," he said.

By car, it's more than a three-day drive from the North Charleston Coliseum to Sullivan Arena in Anchorage. The 4,553-mile odyssey takes one through more than a dozen states and a large part of Canada. The estimated drive time on Mapquest is 77 hours, 44 minutes.

"It's doable," Kiser quipped.

Kiser's teammates have not missed an opportunity to chide him.

"Nate's still trying to figure out ways to get booted off the plane," winger Matt Scherer said. "We might just take a hammer to his head and see if he can't sleep the whole time."

After South Carolina's 3-2 victory over Cincinnati on Friday night that clinched the Stingrays' spot in the Kelly Cup finals, Kiser tried to persuade the team's bus driver to head to Anchorage instead of back to Charleston.

"We talked about it," Kiser said. "I was willing to throw a lot of money at him, too. He should have taken it. When everyone was asleep, he just turns the bus around and we start heading to Alaska. We'd be there by now."