VOORHEES, N.J. – Every training camp, there are jobs up for grabs. Of course, there are veterans who have a spot locked up, and it’s known from Day One that is the case.
Sometimes, a guy comes in to camp and surprises everyone and wins a job – maybe even one that wasn’t necessarily open.
Last year, the big camp surprise was rookie Sean Couturier. Not only did he unexpectedly make the team out of camp, but was a key piece to the Flyers season.
There was another guy who made the team out of camp last season too that was a bit of a surprise, and it flew under the radar because of Couturier. And now, one season later, his spot is just as secure.
Zac Rinaldo was in a battle with Tom Sestito for the final roster spot in September, 2011. Sestito appeared to have a slight edge at the time, but then drew a suspension from the NHL for an illegal hit in his final preseason game. Rinaldo got his spot, and never let it go.
Rinaldo ended up playing 66 games with the Flyers last season, and accrued 232 penalty minutes as one of the leagues biggest hitters – and agitators.
This season, Rinaldo, 22, finds himself in a different spot. He’s in camp, but he seems to have a spot reserved for him.
That’s not to say he can put his camp, or his game, on cruise control. Rinaldo still has to play with energy, tenacity and discipline to keep a spot in Peter Laviolette’s lineup, but he’s impressed the head coach – and really everyone in the organization enough – to have a secure spot on the roster.
Rinaldo believes that his play last season coupled with his improvement over the summer and in his time with the Adirondack Phantoms this season during the work stoppage has led to his role being reserved for him.
“Me being in the AHL to start the season was more of a positive for me than anything,” he said. “I spent my time wisely down there. I upgraded and put a little bit more into my game than I have in a couple years. It’s definitely an advantage to me.”
It’s an advantage that could see Rinaldo’s ice time increase considerably from the 7:28 per game he averaged last season.
“I know I was talked to last year about getting onto the penalty kill and stuff like that,” Rinaldo said. “Even if I didn’t play in the AHL, I would have gotten more chances like that. It just so happened there was a lockout and in my favor I got down there to show what I can do with the Phantoms. The more responsibility I have, the better.”
Coach Peter Laviolette wouldn’t commit to Rinaldo getting penalty kill time for certain, although he did say that Rinaldo is an option in shorthanded situations. The Flyers coach is high on Rinaldo and what he can bring in an increased role for the team.
“The best reflection of Zac will come when we play Saturday,” Laviolette said. “I’m a big Rinaldo fan. He brings a lot of energy to the room and to this rink. He’s a terrific player.”
One of the “upgrades” in Rinaldo’s game this season was his discipline.
Sure, he led the Phantoms in penalty minutes in his three months with the team, but he only was involved in two fights, and none until December – on a game that was televised back in Philadelphia, to which he said he wanted to “get the fans excited.”
But, his lack of fighting was intentional.
“I wanted to show people that I’m not just into fighting and hitting,” Rinaldo said. “The best thing for me to do was to get rid of the fighting completely and just do what I had to do. Now that I’m back here I can put everything together and hopefully it will go smoothly for me.”
Still, Rinaldo knows his name and his reputation is that of a guy who will take penalties – a lot of them. As such, he gets whistled frequently still, but he’s actually comfortable with that.
“I know clean hits are clean hits and if I get a penalty for it I know my coaching staff and the organization is going to be behind me 100 percent,” Rinaldo said. “As long as I have that, I’m confident in every hit I make. If it’s dirty, I deserve a penalty - don’t get me wrong - but a majority of my hits are clean and if they’re clean and I get a penalty, it’s all O.K.”
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