TORONTO – Canadian national junior team coach Brent Sutter has absolute trust in Griffin Reinhart.
How far does that trust go? Far enough that he is comfortable playing a bit shorthanded on the blue line for the first three games of the upcoming World Junior Championship tournament, which begins Dec. 26 in Malmo, Sweden.
Reinhart, the star defenseman for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League, must serve the final three games of a four-game suspension delivered at last year's World Junior Championship for a high-sticking infraction committed against American forward Vincent Trocheck in the final preliminary game. Reinhart missed the semifinal, which Canada lost, and now must still serve the remainder of his ban.
"We weren't exactly sure what to do, but after the Subway Series was over, it was pretty clear that if we could have Griffin Reinhart for the last four game of the tournament, we would rather have that than not have him," Sutter told NHL.com on Sunday, the last day of Canada's selection camp at the Mastercard Centre for Hockey Excellence. "At that point, I haven't thought about it since then."
Griffin Reinhart is suspended for the first three games of the upcoming World Junior Championship tournament, but Canada is willing to wait for him to return rather than leave him off its roster. (Photo: Getty Images)
Reinhart only played in one Subway Series game, a 3-2 loss to the Russian team in Red Deer, Alberta, but he had a goal and was plus-2. He was one of Canada's most dominant players.
But, even with all that, Reinhart's inclusion on the Canadian WJC team is not without its critics and does leave the team in a bit of a bind. When the Canadians hand in their final roster on Dec. 19, it will only have seven defensemen. That means the Canadians will play the first three games with six available defenders, leaving no wiggle room if a player is injured, struggles or is suspended.
But it is a chance Canada management is willing to take. Reinhart’s teammates are willing to wait too.
"With Griff out, that's obviously a big loss," said Mathew Dumba, a candidate to play on the top pair with Reinhart when he returns. "He's a great player. I guess it is something we are not focusing on too much. We have guys that can step up and play a big role, and when Griff does get back, the more the merrier I guess."
But why exactly is everyone willing to make such a roster gamble in a tournament that means so much to Canadians?
Because Reinhart is simply a game-changing talent.
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound defender, taken at No. 4 by the New York Islanders in the 2012 NHL Draft, is an adept puck handler with the poise to weather the forecheck and the vision to make the proper outlet pass. He can run a power play and has a dangerous shot from the point. Plus, as a 19-year-old who has been through the WJC battles before, he knows what Canada faces in the next few weeks and how to handle that pressure.
"I was here last year, so I know what it takes to win the games; so I'll try to lead them off the ice in that way,” Reinhart said. "I'll be watching, making sure I stay in the loop with what is going on with the team. I'll be working, doing some extra skating to keep me in shape."
If anybody knows what Griffin Reinhart brings to the equation, it would be Sam Reinhart, Griffin's younger brother. Sam Reinhart is in the mix to be one of Canada's 13 forwards.
"He's a great presence to have on the blue line; he is so composed in any situation," Sam Reinhart said. "Obviously, the experience and leadership he brings is great to have."
Reinhart admitted it will be hard to watch those first three round-robin games while he finishes serving his suspension, but he said he will treat it as though he is out injured, and insisted he will be ready when eligible to return.
"It'll be hard watching for sure. Everyone wants to play," he said. "I've sat out in the WHL with injuries, so I have to take it like that and just take all the positives and not look at the negatives.
"I think I will be OK. I have sat out over a week before and then come back to playing. It's not really too much time off."
Plus, he knows he will be thrown right into the fire. His first game back: New Year's Eve against the Americans, the defending champions.
That alone, he says, will assure he is ready to go.
"I've definitely seen the schedule," he said. "Obviously, the first three games I can't play, and that is upsetting. But coming back and playing against the States on [Dec.] 31st, that is a huge rivalry and everybody gets hyped up for that game."