The return of Edmonton Oil Kings defenseman Griffin Reinhart couldn’t have come at a better time for Canada. Serving out the final three games of a suspension garnered at last year’s world juniors for a high stick against Team USA, the New York Islanders prospect was back in the lineup against those same Americans and made a big impact in Canada’s 3-2 victory.
The fourth overall selection in 2012, Reinhart seemed to be on the ice non-stop in the first five minutes of the game, rushing the puck and throwing his weight around. That early involvement was definitely by design.
“I told him the day before, he wasn’t going to be slowly put in,” said Team Canada assistant coach Ryan McGill. “He was expected to be a leader and do the things he does well because he’s been in this tournament before; he’s a very experienced player who has been to two league finals back home and there’s the calming influence he has. If we had put him in slowly, he wouldn’t have been able to provide that leadership in the first half that helped us get through the game.”
By McGill’s count, Reinhart played 8:30 in the first period and the plan to avoid rust worked. Not only was the big blueliner effective early on, but when the Canadians were protecting a lead late in the game, it was Reinhart doing his best Rob Scuderi impression by blocking anything in his path during a goal-mouth scramble in front of the Canadian net. And those early shifts set the tone.
“I’m used to logging a lot of minutes back in junior, but here it was a good way to get back into it,” Reinhart said. “I play better when my feet are moving and I jump up in the play. I was trying to take it slow to start off and gain more confidence.”
And confidence was something the Canadian defense needed. The whole team had an up-and-down round robin, but the blueline in particular seemed too scrambly. For Reinhart’s defense partner, the big guy’s return was welcome.
“I love playing with Griff,” said Matt Dumba. “He’s just a calming influence out there and we always seem to know where the other guy is, so that helps a lot.”
The toughest part of Reinhart’s suspension of course was the fact he couldn’t help out his teammates earlier, but working with McGill, the Isles prospect kept in fighting trim.
“In the morning I would come in for some bag skates with Gilly,” Reinhart said. “I would do that for a half-hour, then go back to the hotel and work out for an hour. I really wouldn’t see the guys game day until after the game.”
McGill takes exception to the term “bag skate,” preferring to focus on the skill elements of their sessions, but the end result was the same: prepping a player to jump right in and make the impact he was capable of.
“Everything we did was based on skill,” McGill said. “Skating, passing, shooting and positioning based on physical play in the corners. The one nice thing about Griffin is that he does have a high skill level and can play at a high pace, or he can bring the pace down and slow it down. Everything we did was to make sure it wasn’t a speed game for him and it wasn’t overwhelming.”
Now with the first challenge out of the way, Reinhart and his mates jump right into the single-elimination medal round. A fortuitous series of events landed them Switzerland instead of Russia, but the one-game-at-a-time mantra is still prevalent. And no matter who Canada faces from here on out, they’ll be doing so with one of their best defensemen back in action.
Get scores, schedules and more on THN.com’s World Junior Championship Central page.