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Heat's Reinhart thriving in the family business

by Alyssa Dombrowski

They say the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and in the case of former NHL player Paul Reinhart, the sons don't stray far from the rink.

Max Reinhart's inheritance of his father's passion for hockey has led him to become a prominent NHL prospect with the Abbotsford Heat of the American Hockey League.

"I always knew I wanted to be a hockey player because of my dad," said Max Reinhart, 21. "He taught me how to play, how to respect the game and how to have love for the game."

Paul Reinhart spent most of his 11-season NHL career with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames after being selected by the organization with the 12th pick of the 1979 NHL Draft. More than 30 years later the Flames selected Max, the oldest of the three hockey-playing Reinhart sons, in the third round (No. 64) of the 2010 draft.

"[My father] told me what hockey can give back to you if you really love the game," Max said, "and I think all three of us brothers have a respect for hockey and what it's given to us."

The Reinhart family's affinity for hockey runs deep. Nineteen-year-old Griffin, who was drafted by the New York Islanders with the fourth pick of the 2012 draft, plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League and likely will be on Canada’s roster for the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. Sam, 18, likely will join Griffin on Canada's WJC team; he plays for the Kootenay Ice of the WHL and is a candidate to be the first player picked at the 2014 draft.

Reinhart's hockey roots resonate on a personal level with Abbotsford president Ryan Walter, who played more than 1,000 NHL games during 15 seasons and competed against Paul Reinhart.

"Paul was obviously a great skater and he probably still is," Walter said. "In my day there were only a few defensemen that would join the rush to really get up the ice and create offense and Paul was certainly one of them."

He sees that same skill set in Max.

"There's no doubt that the skating sort of runs in the family," Walter said. "They've got great wheels. The kids have picked up Dad's foot speed. Some people have to really struggle to skate, even at a high level, but it was always natural and easy for Paul [and] it feels like it's easy for his sons also."

After winning the WHL championship with Kootenay in 2011, Max signed an entry-level contract with Calgary that summer and returned to play with the Ice for his final junior season in 2011-12. One of his teammates was Sam and they faced Griffin's Oil Kings in the 2012 WHL playoffs.

"I never got to play an actual organized hockey game against them until the WHL when all three of us were in the same game," Max said. "That was a very unique experience that not a lot of people get to go through.

"I think it's hard to put into words [what the experience meant], but it's always fun and exciting to be out there with them."

Hockey is something that runs through Max Reinhart's lineage. The oldest of three is currently with Abbotsford. (Photo: Clint Traham)

After Kootenay's season ended, Reinhart made his professional debut with Abbotsford on April 15, 2012 and scored two goals in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Toronto Marlies. He also played in four playoff games with the Heat that spring,

In his first full AHL season he had seven goals and 14 assists in 67 games in 2012-13. He made his NHL debut with Calgary on April 6 and scored his first NHL goal in a 4-1 Flames win against the Edmonton Oilers on April 13.

Outside of his family, Reinhart has found another major guiding presence in his hockey career: Heat coach Troy Ward.

"The one thing that he has, which not an abundance of players have, that has really helped him is his great hockey sense," Ward said. "He's got a really good understanding of and feel for the game and he knows when and where to go. That's probably in his pedigree with his family and his father."

That is indeed the case, according to Reinhart.

"I think [all three brothers] learned from my dad, and the big thing he tried to teach us is hockey sense,” Reinhart said. "I think that's pretty similar in all of us."

In 23 games this season Reinhart has five goals and 12 assists. He's been recalled by the Flames twice and has played four NHL games.

According to Ward, Reinhart's multiple NHL stints so far in his career are a direct reflection of the steady improvements he continues to make on the ice.

"The biggest [improvement] on-ice is that he's been able to get up to speed relative to finding space to make his plays and where he can go in the American League to utilize the God-given talents he has," Ward said. "I think that's evolved over time.

"Probably the bigger underlying reason for his success is just his overall maturity as a person, which is usually the case for most young players. As his life has become easier and as he's matured, his game is becoming mature and they usually go hand-in-hand."

Reinhart's solid play is one reason the Heat are competing with the Grand Rapids Griffins for the top spot in the Western Conference.

"I think there's a lot of talent here, a lot of players who can score goals and are looking to get better and improve their game," Reinhart said. "Our coaches are letting us play and a lot of our guys are playing really well right now.

"I personally have had to make a switch from center to wing this year, and Troy and Robbie (Ftorek, Heat assistant coach) have been very helpful with guiding me through the ins and outs of the position. They've been patient with me and with my mistakes that I'm going to make from having a position change like that."

Ward sees Abbotsford as the perfect place for Reinhart to continue his development.

"I think we fit Max's personality to a T," Ward said. "We’re a team that's never well-done and we're not rare. We're medium-rare all the time. That's just the personality of our team. We methodically build on our game and we worry about the process, we don't really worry about the results, and that's how we play.

"That's the way Max is as a player too, and that's his biggest strength. He's never really a guy that gets too down and he's never a guy that gets too up. He just takes every day as it is and he deals with it and that's the way our team has been."

Ward also recognizes the uniqueness of Reinhart's upbringing and the benefits it has given him away from the ice.

"It's had a huge impact, from the general father/son talk about the game to their day-to-day chatter just about life and how they build on themselves through the game," Ward said. "When you have a father that plays at that level, you kind of grow up with [professional hockey] as a background of your life when you're a little kid.

"I think you understand the pressures and the highs and lows of the business and how to handle those highs and lows better than most kids, and the successes and disappointments that go along with it."

For Reinhart, a dedication to the game has been inherent since long before he became a pro.

"You go to the rink and have hockey all afternoon and then you come home for dinner and you're talking about hockey again," Reinhart said. "So for us hockey has always been a big part of our family and of our lives."

Walter, who has three hockey-playing sons of his own, can imagine the sentiments Paul Reinhart has experienced in watching his three boys follow in his footsteps.

"It's really a joy," Walter said. "It's a very exciting time when your kids, as I'm sure like Paul's, fall in love with the game you love."

It’s a love that has Max Reinhart firmly on the road to the NHL.

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