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TIME TO SHINE

Flames invite Zac Rinaldo looking to build off Monday and turn heads with punishing physical game

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

He appeared from the gym stitched up and sweaty, the messy, minutes-old gauze crimped carelessly across the bridge of his nose.

"That's me," Zac Rinaldo said, still catching his breath following Wednesday's pre-game skate.

"That's my personality.

"That's my character.

"I'm never, ever going to cheat you with my work ethic.

"That's why I'm here."

'Here,' being Calgary, on a Professional Try-Out (PTO) the 29-year-old, certifiable "pain in the a**," hopes will land him a full-time gig with the Flames.

The punishing left-winger has 351 NHL starts to his name, but has bounced around with the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Arizona Coyotes and Nashville Predators' organizations for the past four years

The 'enforcer' role phasing out, league wide.

But Rinaldo - who led the Flames with six hits in 11:25 of ice time in Monday's pre-season loss to the Vancouver Canucks - is out to prove he's got game.

"It's a kill or be killed mentality," Rinaldo said. "Not literally, of course.

"But I'm going to go out there and give it all I have, or it's all going to be taken away. Work as hard as I can every day, leave it all at the rink, and don't have any regrets.

"That's how I live my life and never has it been more important to my career than it is now."

Rinaldo suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in February of last year, meaning Monday's tilt was the first game action of any kind of for the 5-foot-10, 193 lb. sparkplug in over eight months.

He admits, that kind of a layoff makes it difficult to grab the attention of hungry NHL GMs over the off-season.

"You haven't played in a while, it's almost like you're out of the league, forgotten about completely," Rinaldo said.

But unlike some of the other plays in camp under similar invite conditions, Rinaldo plays a role no one else does, and with that comes a reputation.

Along with his 15 goals and 37 career points, he has a mammoth, 719 penalty minutes to his name.

Suspended five times already, Rinaldo is working on cleaning up his game.

His career depends on it.

But he's also made a living from fearlessness and that, he says, can never wane.

 

 

"I've learned in the hard way in the past, crossing that line," Rinaldo said. "No one ever wakes up and says, 'Hey, I'm going to try and get suspended tonight.'

"But I do think my role matters, and that I can provide a lift for my teammates with a big hit, a blocked shot - anything.

"My goal here is to show the coaching staff that I'm more than that one-dimensional guy they may have heard of."

So far, so good.

In fact, Bill Peters went out of his way during the first day of camp to mention Rinaldo as a player that stood out.

Then, when asked earlier this morning to summarize the Mississauga native's debut the other night, he, again, left a positive impression.

"He was good," Peters said. "I thought he and (Devante) Smith-Pelly got on the body. He led us in checks, I'm sure of it. ... They play to their identity, so it was good."

Rinaldo will play a similar, fourth-line role again tonight as the Flames host the San Jose Sharks in the second of eight pre-season tilts, with the vet lining up on the right side next to prospects Adam Ruzicka and Martin Pospisil - the latter, too, known for his own brand of pushy reconnaisance.

"On Monday, I thought I was physical, brought a lot of energy, made plays with the puck when the opportunity was there," Rinaldo said. "That's a big win for me, personally.

"Now, with that one under my belt, I want to slow down the game.

"I think when I get a good grasp of how much time I actually have to make plays, it'll become easier. … To be away for so long that and hop into that pre-season game, it felt like I wasn't missing a step. If anything, I was a step above some of the guys on the other team.

"I have to do it again tonight. You never know how many chances you're going to get, and this is a great one to show everyone:

"'I'm back.'"

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