Griffin Reinhart has had a long time to think about an incident that happened in a matter of seconds. It’s been almost a year since his high stick caught American forward Vincent Trocheck in the head during Canada’s semifinal loss at the 2013 world junior championships.
During the game Reinhart was given a two-minute penalty. Trocheck was uninjured and didn’t miss a shift. The next day, however, the Canadian defenceman was handed a four-game suspension by the IIHF, the governing body for the tournament.
Reinhart has only served one game, which means if he makes Canada’s 2014 world junior squad he’ll have to sit out the first three games of the tournament in Malmo, Sweden. The suspension throws some doubt on whether Canada will take the 19-year-old who would have otherwise been a lock for the blueline.
Time has not helped Reinhart come to terms with his punishment. He still remembers the play clearly. He still stands by his assertion it was an accident – he lost his balance and, as he was falling, his stick slid up Trocheck’s stick and made contact with the forward’s head.
“It sucks,” said Reinhart, bluntly. “I didn’t mean to make the play that happened. Even on the ice the Americans were content with the two-minute penalty, they didn’t complain about it and they thought it was an accident as well from talking to some of their players on the plane (home) after.”
Scott Salmond, Hockey Canada’s senior director of operations, said the avenues for appeal have been exhausted and the IIHF has made it clear the suspension cannot be served during exhibition games.
“I thought it was an unreasonable time for a player – especially a player who has an opportunity to come back,” said Salmond.
“Our coaches and our management will have to decide whether we can take a player as part of our team who is suspended for three games.”
Reinhart will get the opportunity to make his case to Hockey Canada’s brass with his play in the WHL portion of the Subway Super Series which starts Wednesday night in Red Deer, Alta.
Reinhart is one of the premiere defencemen in the Western Hockey League where he plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings. The 6-foot-4, 202-pound blueliner has two goals and seven assists in 15 WHL games this season. The fact that Brent Sutter, who coaches the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels, is at the helm of the world junior team this year might work to Reinhart’s advantage seeing as he’s familiar with Reinhart’s capabilities.
“Regardless of where the coach is from you’re going to have to earn ice time,” said Reinhart. “If you’re not going to do the job they ask you to, they’ll find someone else to do it because there’s a lot of depth in Canada.”
Reinhart would miss games against Germany, Czech Republic and Slovakia, meaning he’d be available to play in Canada’s rematch with the U.S. on New Year’s Eve. Canada has traditionally taken seven defencemen with them to the tournament, but you can never account for injuries or suspensions.
“A lot of that will depend on the coach (Sutter), if he’s comfortable with that situation,” said Salmond. “We could potentially roll through with five or if you had two injuries, four.
“It’ll be dictated by how many defencemen we have, how good they are and what kind of experience we have on the back end – that’ll make the decision.”
The biggest factor in determining Reinhart’s fate could be the status of NHLers like Mathew Dumba of the Minnesota Wild and Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs. If they’re both made available to Team Canada for the tournament, there’s a chance the fourth overall pick of the New York Islanders in 2012 could be watching from home.
At present Dumba has only played in 13 NHL games with the Wild, averaging 12 minutes of ice time. Rielly has been getting more ice time with the Leafs and playing slightly more frequently with 19 NHL games under his belt. Both 19-year-old defencemen have spent a healthy amount of time as observers in the press box, which is expected when making the jump from junior.
Salmond said the decision on whether Reinhart makes the team will likely be made just prior to the team leaving for Europe.
“It’ll be difficult because history tells you that our defencemen are very good their second time around and he’s a big kid, he’s obviously got a good pedigree and he’s a 19-year-old – those are the kind of guys you look for, so it’ll be a tough decision,” said Salmond.
Among the other players in the WHL leg of the Super Series will be Reinhart’s younger brother, Sam, a forward with Kootenay Ice and one of the top-ranked players for the 2014 NHL draft. Their older brother Max is a former WHLer and is currently playing in the Calgary Flames’ system. Their father, Paul Reinhart, was a longtime NHLer who played with Atlanta, Calgary and Vancouver and represented Canada at the world championships.
If both Reinharts make Team Canada they would become only the third set of siblings to wear the Maple Leaf at the tournament following Dougie and Freddie Hamilton in 2012 and Randy and Mike Moller in 1982.
“We grew up playing together being only one year apart,” said Griffin of brother, Sam. “He’s a smart guy and a great player. I know if he plays the way he can and the way he has been playing, there’s no doubt in my mind he deserves a spot to be there.”
The elder Reinhart wants Hockey Canada to know he deserves to be there in Malmo, too. And he’s going to use everything in his arsenal to make the choice to leave him behind as difficult as possible.
“I’m going to make their decision tough,” said Reinhart. “I’m not going to make it easy for them, I expect that’s what they want – a tough decision. I don’t want to give them an excuse for them not to take me.”