Author Andrew Podnieks
(ISN) – Only 19 years old but already a veteran in international competition, Canada’s Sam Reinhart hopes to bring home the gold as he did with the U18 team.
And if he does, he’ll be one of an incredible eight players from that victorious U18 team on the current U20 team to do so.
“I feel good,” Reinhart said after practice on Tuesday. “I think bonding-wise we’re progressing, and a lot of us know each other from various tournaments, the U16, U17, U18, and U20s. Guys are familiar with one another, which I think is really important.”
Reinhart’s last year and a half has been one of constant improvement and maturity. After winning the U18, he played at the U20 for Canada last year in Malmo, Sweden, finishing a disappointing fourth, and this past summer he was drafted second overall by the Buffalo Sabres behind only Aaron Ekblad (Florida).
Reinhart played in the season opener for the Sabres this October, but after nine games and one assist the struggling team sent him back to junior where he was captain of the Kootenay Ice in the WHL. That led to his invitation to play for Canada at the 2015 U20s in Montreal and Toronto, and a chance for Reinhart and the team to redeem themselves for last year’s sub-par performance.
“I think sometimes when you don’t have success, you learn a lot more than when you do have success,” Reinhart philosophized. “So we’re trying to have a different approach this year and focusing on every practice leading up to the tournament.”
Of course, no matter what the honour of wearing the Team Canada sweater, it’s tough to be a high draft choice who jumps into the NHL only to be demoted.
“I think the tough part mentally is to convince yourself to keep playing at that higher level of intensity,” Reinhart explained. “I realized when I came back to junior, that when I did play with that same intensity, I had success. The biggest thing is to motivate yourself and force yourself to use that intensity and to maintain it. That being said, I am taking what I learned at the professional level, the intensity you need to play at that level, and making the most of it here. My focus right now is solely on the team here, nothing else.”
The youngest of three hockey-playing brothers (Max is 22 and Griffin is 20), and the son of former NHLer, Paul, Sam is expected to be a leader here, in part because of his 2014 U20 experience, in part because of his time in the NHL.
“I and a bunch of other guys have the experience. We were there last year and saw how the tournament unfolded, saw the level of competition and what we needed to do to have success. I think that’s the most important thing, especially at this stage of camp.”
Still, the camp is called camp for a reason; it is still a work in progress. Lines have not been set, and coach Benoit Groulx has yet to trim his roster to what he’ll take to the event. Reinhart will do whatever is asked of him, knowing that what’s good for the team is good for him.
“Once you get to camp, you get a better idea of what you’re going to be asked to do and how you’re going to have to adapt” he explained. “The coaches are always talking to guys and letting them know where they stand and what’s expected of them.”
One huge difference this year for the Canadians is that they’re playing on home ice, a fact not lost on Reinhart. “We’re viewing this as home-ice advantage every time we step on the ice,” he admits. “Everyone on the team is excited to be playing at home. We know what comes with that, the pressure and the support. We’ve all been on the fan side growing up when Canada won so many times in a row, so we’re all familiar with the frenzy that surrounds the tournament. We’re prepared, and we’re comfortable, and we’re going to take it as a positive, for sure.”
The pressure comes from the fact that Canada has never failed to win a medal when it hosts and has now gone five years without winning gold. The support comes from knowing every game is sold out, and every fan in Canada will be behind the home side.