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A natural athlete who excelled at everything he did, including racking up points for the Flames

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

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The effervescent Bob Johnson, typically gung-ho, didn't mince words.

"He's a player you can build a team around,'' critiqued the Badger, on the subject of slick defenceman Paul Reinhart.

"A cornerstone."

Of the scores of D-men to don the Flaming C over the past three decades and change, few possessed as much innate ability as Paul Reinhart.

"Rhino,'' says former teammate Jim Peplinski, not a little enviously, "is just incredibly athletic. 

"Pick up a golf club, a baseball bat, a hockey stick. Whatever. Could play right-wing, left-wing, centre, defence. Throw (pads) on him and I bet he could've played in the net.

"He had the ability, in so many ways, to turn a game. Incredibly strong skater, very attuned as to where everyone was on the ice. 

"Could play physical, loads of finesse.

"I mean, it was all there."

Barely 20 years old, he was among those intrepid souls who made the journey from the deep U.S. South - his rookie NHL season coinciding with Flames' franchise swan song in Atlanta - to the oil-rich western Canadian wilds after being the 12th overall pick in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft.

"There was a lot of grumbling, initially,'' acknowledged Reinhart. " But I remember (agent) Alan Eagleson calling and saying: 'Paul, give it a chance. This will be the best move you've ever made.'"

Right away, and Reinhart found himself at the forefront, finishing fourth in team scoring that season with 67 points.

While in Georgia, the franchise had never managed to win a playoff series. But during the memorable 1981 push to the semifinals, Reinhart's 15 points trailed only Guy Chouinard's aggregate of 17 among Flames.

That city-relocated team love-affair-cementing springtime was highlighted, as old-timers will be only happy to tell you, by a seven-game ouster of the prohibitively-favoured Philadelphia Flyers in Round 2.

"I think,'' Reinhart reckoned in retrospect, "that was bit of a defining moment for the organization. 

"That playoff performance, just winning the first series, let alone the second, changed the mentality and history of that franchise and helped bring us up into the present, helped separate us from the Atlanta days."

Injuries limited him to 32 regular-season starts in '85-86, yet he returned for a playoff run and his 18 points in 21 games helped steer the Flames to their first Stanley Cup final appearance, against the Canadiens.

Looking back, eight seasons in the organization, the first seven here in Calgary, one trip to the semi-finals and another to the finals are certainly nothing to sneeze at.

Ongoing back problems (which forced his retirement two seasons after being traded) compromised Reinhart's effectiveness and cut down the points.

"He was doing all sorts of stuff for his back,'' recalls Peplinski. "Anybody who's ever had a back injury has the highest degree of appreciation of the torture that can put you through.

"All I can say is that I saw Rhino play under some very, very challenging circumstances.

"As I've gotten older and had some back issues of my own, I'm incredibly respectful of somebody who was able to stand up and walk around, let alone play in the National Hockey League when their back was bothering them."

Still, his impact is indisputable. Over three decades after being traded to the Vancouver Canucks, Reinhart still ranks 10th in career Flames' points (444) and sixth in helpers (335).

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