Reinhart thriving in family business

by Alyssa Dombrowski || for

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and in the case of former two-time National Hockey League All-Star Paul Reinhart, the sons don’t stray far from the rink.

Max Reinhart’s inheritance of his father’s passion for hockey has led the second-year pro to become a prominent NHL prospect with the American Hockey League’s Abbotsford Heat.

“I always knew I wanted to be a hockey player because of my dad,” said the 21-year-old Reinhart, whose Heat enter the weekend tied for first place in the AHL’s Western Conference. “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-year NHL career with the Calgary Flames after being selected by the organization at No. 12 overall in the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. More than 30 years later, the Flames organization took Max, the oldest of the three hockey-playing Reinhart sons, in the third round 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 fourth overall by the New York Islanders in 2012, currently plays for the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Western Hockey League and is projected to appear on Canada’s roster for the upcoming World Junior Championships. Eighteen-year-old Sam captains the WHL’s Kootenay Ice and sits atop the prospect rankings going into the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.

Reinhart’s hockey roots resonate on a personal level with Abbotsford Heat team president Ryan Walter, who played in more than 1,000 games during 15 seasons in the NHL and competed against the Reinhart patriarch.

“Paul was obviously a great skater, and he probably still is,” said Walter. “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 skillset manifest when Max hits the ice.

“There’s no doubt that the skating sort of runs in the family. 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 – 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 offseason and returned to play with the Ice for his final junior season in 2011-12 – granting him the opportunity to play alongside younger brother Sam and against other brother Griffin in the 2012 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,” said Reinhart. “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.”

Following Kootenay’s first-round exit in the 2012 playoffs, Reinhart made his professional debut with Abbotsford on Apr. 15, 2012, and scored two goals in a 5-4 overtime victory over the Toronto Marlies. He subsequently appeared in four playoff games with the Heat that spring,

As a rookie in 2012-13, Reinhart put up seven goals and 14 assists in 67 games with the Heat. He made his NHL debut with Calgary on April 6, and notched his first NHL goal in a 4-1 Flames win over the Edmonton Oilers on April 13.

Outside of his family, Reinhart has found another major guiding presence in his hockey career: Troy G. Ward was named the Heat’s head coach prior to the 2011-12 season and has nurtured Reinhart’s development since he first turned pro.

“The one thing that he has, which not an abundance of players have, that has really helped him is his great hockey sense,” said Ward. “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,” said Reinhart. “I think that’s pretty similar in all of us.”

In 23 contests with the Heat this season, Reinhart has notched five goals and 12 assists for 17 points. He has earned two recalls to Calgary and has skated in four contests with the Flames so far in their 2013-14 campaign.

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, according to his coach.

“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,” said Ward. “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.”

Ward’s confidence in Reinhart reverberates throughout the organization.

“I see a huge upside in Max, and I’m sure the Calgary Flames do also,” said Walter. “His skating, his hands, he’s got a good shot – all of those are sort of taken for granted. He’s just coming into his own and he’s going to continue to grow and get stronger.

“He’s not afraid to go to the hard spots, and that’s an important thing – you don’t have to be a fighter in today’s game, but you do have to play hard. When his game is on, he plays inside the game and what I think he will learn here in Abbotsford is to do that consistently.”

The Heat (20-8-1-1, 42 points) are currently tied with the defending Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins for first place in the AHL’s Western Conference, an indication of the club’s prolific young roster.

“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,” said Reinhart. “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 (Heat assistant coach Robbie Ftorek) 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.”

Reinhart has been able to thrive in Abbotsford partly due to correlating mentalities between him as a player and his team in general, according to his coach.

“I think we fit Max’s personality to a T,” said Ward. “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,” said Ward. “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,” said Reinhart. “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,” said Walter. “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.