EDMONTON – Late in the game Sunday, up by one and on the penalty kill as Team Canada looked to secure a win over the United States, Griffin Reinhart’s new role was put to the test in his most pivotal assignment to date.
Lodged in puck battles with Alex Galchenyuk and Sean Kuraly for nearly a minute as his US rivals pressed for the equalizer, Reinhart helped keep them at bay. The captain of the WHL’s Oil Kings, a native of West Vancouver, BC, was brought in by Canada’s National Junior Team to excel in the role of a stay-at-home defenceman.
“It’s a little bit different than what I’m used to,” Reinhart said in a long distance post-game phone call. “I’m relied upon defensively just as much, but not quite as much on the offensive side of the puck. I’m not as involved in the power-play or jumping up in the rush as much I normally would be in Edmonton, but I’m perfectly OK with that and knew what the expectations were coming in. Everyone on this team has a role — we embrace that, we specialize in it and the fact that we’re so committed to doing our part is what’s going to make us successful as a team.”
It’s the Buckley’s Cough Syrup mix of player responsibilities. Well, sort of. It doesn’t taste awful in the slightest, but a behind-the-scenes role stripped of pomp and circumstance certainly isn’t a flashy one.
But, boy, it sure does work. Reinhart was proof of that Sunday, quelling the Americans’ surge, activating his stick, engaging himself physically and doing everything in his power to prevent a goal.
If there was a Dickies Hardest Working Player of the Game award in the IIHF like there is in the CHL, Reinhart would have been the front-runner.
“It’s a great feeling when the coaching staff has the confidence to put me out there in that situation,” Reinhart said. “At the same time, it’s a hard minute — probably the hardest minute of the game to play in. But, really, getting the opportunity is all a player can ask for and I certainly took a lot of pride in what I was able to accomplish on that PK. Fortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience playing in those kinds of situations with the Oil Kings over the years.
“It’s a fun role to play in. I came in as the fifth, sixth or even seventh defenceman on the team but have worked my way up. I’ve been getting a pretty good amount of ice time, too, so that always helps.”
Reinhart, 18, is now in his third full season with the Oil Kings. Last year when Edmonton won the WHL Championship and advanced to the Memorial Cup, he posted career-highs with 12 goals and 36 points in 58 regular-season games. Following a summer in which he was drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders, was named Mark Pysyk’s successor as Oil Kings captain and represented Team WHL at the Subway Super Series most recently, how does the 2013 World Junior Championship stack up in his list of personal highlights?
“The whole experience has been unbelievable,” Reinhart said. “In Helsinki we got to visit a World War II underground bomb shelter underneath a cathedral. The whole place was built out of rock, so that was really, really cool. Over here in Russia it’s really cold, so it actually reminds me a lot of Edmonton. But everything else is so … different, and certainly not in a bad way. Off the ice, it’s a great experience for all of us to travel around Europe a little bit and see what it’s like. I’ve had an amazing time and feel very fortunate to have been given the chance to be here.
“We’re all trying to make the most of it. It’s a different kind of crowd over here and they’re very loud throughout the game. We also know everyone back home is staying up really late to watch us on TSN and we all appreciate that support.
“We’re feeding off it.”
On the ice in Ufa, 13 hours ahead of a normal game time at Rexall Place, Canada has been on its game. Having now surged to a 3-0 record with wins over Germany, Slovakia and the United States, Canada’s next opponent might be the most difficult one.
Monday’s game vs. Russia will determine who finishes first in Group B, automatically earning a bye to the semi-finals.
“A lot of us got a chance to see (Russia) in the summer during the Subway Series and we’ve seen them on TV a couple times since we’ve been here,” Reinhart said. “They’re a really skilled team and they like to play a puck possession game. They’re fast, they’re physical, they’re a great team and they’re undefeated in this tournament as well. It’s going to be a good matchup for us, especially in their home rink.
“It’s not hard to get up for these games. From the moment you put on the Canadian sweater and know you’re going head-to-head with another country, it’s a great feeling.”
— Ryan Dittrick, Edmonton Oil Kings | Follow me on Twitter @ryandittrick