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No Nerves for Rinaldo -- Just Excitement -- Heading into 1st Season with Bruins

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

HAMILTON — From the look of Zac Rinaldo’s offseason home in Hamilton, ON., you would never know that the upcoming season will be his first as a member of the Boston Bruins.

The first thing you see when you walk into his basement is a black and gold Adirondack chair adorned with a giant Bruins logo — and Rinaldo’s name and number on the back. It was a chair that raised over $2,000 for Rinaldo’s Fight For A Cause, an annual charity event that raises money to fight pediatric cancer.

Perhaps unexpectedly, that chair says a lot about Rinaldo — more than what meets the eye. Obviously, it says he is excited to be a member of the Bruins. But it is also an emblem of one of his core values: the importance of giving back, which has been ingrained in him ever since he was a kid.

“[My charity] is just a way for me to give back to my community,” Rinaldo said during the second stop of the crew’s 2015 #BearTracks tour. “Like I’ve said before, my upbringing was — I have a lot of friends that were not as fortunate sometimes… I always gave back to my buddies that needed it. So it’s just a kind of way to give back to the whole community, not just one single individual.”

Each summer, Rinaldo returns to his hometown of Hamilton and holds the fundraiser, which features a ball hockey tournament and a gala. This summer, 320 kids participated in the ball hockey tournament, and 10 of Rinaldo’s NHL cohorts attended the event to play with the kids, sign autographs and take photos.

“It turns into one big party,” Rinaldo said of the event. “All the money — every single penny — goes towards McMaster’s SickKids. So there’s not one penny that goes in anyone’s pockets; it gets donated.”

Rinaldo’s charity work doesn’t stop after his own event is over: He spends much of his free time in the summer helping out other causes as well. Not only does it give him the opportunity to give back — something he mentions over and over again as being of the utmost importance to him — but it gives him an opportunity to spend time with some of his other NHL buddies, all in the name of a good cause.

“[I like spending my time] giving back to the community, not just in Hamilton, but in surrounding areas, like Brantford and Toronto and stuff like that,” he said. “Other players from different cities call me and ask if I want to come out and support their cause and support their charity, [and] they’re giving back to their community, so I’m doing a lot of that stuff.”

Rinaldo didn’t have many concrete plans coming into this summer. He just wanted to go with the flow, work out, spend time with friends — but the one thing he did have planned unfortunately had to be postponed due to the events of June 29, 2015.

“I was supposed to go on vacation this summer,” he said with a smile. “I was supposed to go see Michael Raffl, [who] I played with with the Philadelphia Flyers, but I got traded. So that kind of slowed up the process of me going out there, but it’s all good.

“Other than that I’m just hanging out with my buddies. I spend a lot of time with my family, a lot of time with my friends, and other than that I’m just hockey, hockey, and friends and family.”

Objectively, Rinaldo is just an average 25-year-old visiting home for the summer — aside from the fact that he is a perpetual fixture at the rink and at the gym, getting ready for another NHL season.

As training camp gets closer, Rinaldo spends four days per week on the ice, skating with other players — some amateur, some professional — in Hamilton.

“We do a bunch of everything — stickhandling stuff and technique — and then we actually have game-like situations,” Rinaldo said. “So, best of both worlds, what we do on the ice.”

After two hours on the ice, Rinaldo jumps in the car and heads to the gym, where about 90 minutes of off-ice training complement his morning session. Back when he was just entering the league, Rinaldo preferred to train by himself him the summer; now, he couldn’t imagine an offseason without the friendly competition his new training regimen provides.

“We kind of push each other,” he said. “So if one guy is doing X amount of weights but the guy’s partner is doing another X amount of weights, then you want to push each other. Like I said, it’s a friendly competition. It’s always fun, too, especially when you get to know each other — you become buddies and you hang out, not just at the gym, but outside the gym, too.”

Almost every day at the rink, there is a familiar presence standing behind the glass, watching Rinaldo skate: his dad.

“When I’m on the ice, he’s religiously always there,” Rinaldo said. “It’s pretty cool. I’m so used to it, I don’t even ask him anymore if he’s coming; I just know he’s going to show up.”

That, Rinaldo said, is one of the benefits of coming home for the summer: He gets to spend it with his family.

“It’s pretty cool, having him around so close in the summertime,” Rinaldo said. “That’s why I come in the summer — my friends and all my family is here, so it’s very easy to see everybody before I go [start the season] and make sure I get family-oriented before I go back to work.”

Back in the days of youth hockey, Mr. Rinaldo was forthcoming with advice for his son. Now, not so much — and that’s just fine with Rinaldo.

“He stopped doing that maybe three or four years ago,” Rinaldo said with a laugh. “He knows it kind of got out of control. He still [gives me a hard time] when I come home like I’m, you know, 16, 17 years old. So he always reminds me that he’s my father.”

In a couple of weeks, before the end of August, Rinaldo will leave his friends and family behind and pack up for his first season in Boston. He wants to be there as soon as his new teammates get on the ice for the very first captain’s practice. He wants to get to know his new city and his new teammates and prepare to do battle in the Atlantic Division.

And now that camp is only a few weeks away, he isn’t feeling anything except pure excitement to get started. No nerves, no worries; just excitement.

“I’d like to meet some guys sooner than later, just to get the blood flowing, really,” he said. “I’m really excited. I’m not nervous; everyone’s asking if I’m nervous or, you know, if I’m worried about what people are going to think and stuff like that, but I’m not worried. I’m not nervous at all.

“I’m excited more than anything.”

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