Rinaldo shows heart lacking in other Flyers
DETROIT - When Craig Berube was named the 18th coach in Flyers history Monday, he said his sagging team needed to play with more passion, more energy.
He obviously wasn't talking about winger Zac Rinaldo.
Simply put, if all the Flyers had played with the hustle shown by Rinaldo, Peter Laviolette would probably still be the coach, and Berube would still be one of his right-hand men.
The Flyers got Laviolette fired not just because they failed to make the playoffs last season, not just because his message had grown stale, and not just because their offense was nonexistent in the first three games this year.
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He was also dismissed because the Flyers were repeatedly outworked and outskated.
Again, Rinaldo was always an exception.
"He's a guy other teams dislike playing against because he's a little bit unpredictable out there," defenseman Braydon Coburn said after facing Rinaldo in a recent practice. "He's a very underrated skater, and sometimes that gets lost with the other parts of his game."
But Rinaldo is far from a finished product. He showed more discipline last year than in his rookie season, but the winger fell into some old habits Friday, committing four penalties - one of which led to what proved to be the winning goal for Phoenix in its 2-1 victory.
"He needs to play on the edge, and [Friday] I thought he probably was a little bit over the edge," general manager Paul Holmgren said.
Rinaldo has great balance and timing, and his surprising closing speed makes it difficult for opponents to get out of the way. Going into Friday, he had registered a league-high 24 hits, or six per game.
He had been averaging just 9 minutes, 36 seconds per game, meaning he was averaging a hit for about every 1½ minutes of ice time.
When he is playing with discipline, Rinaldo's feistiness and forechecking make him one of the league's most valuable fourth-liners, and it's why Laviolette, seeking answers for the team's puzzling offensive woes, even briefly tried the winger on Claude Giroux's line during the team's game in Montreal.
"I think his game is continually evolving; he's still a young guy," Coburn said.
Because of his speed and responsible defense, assistant Ian Laperriere said, he'd like to get Rinaldo time on the penalty kill.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," said Rinaldo, who calls Laperriere - a player who played with fearlessness and was a superb penalty-killer - his role model.
With his hell-bent style and ability to create energy, Rinaldo, 23, conjures memories of former Flyer Bob "Hound" Kelly, who played on the 1974 and 1975 Stanley Cup champions. Kelly was a better scorer than Rinaldo, who chips in with a goal or assist now and then. But Kelly's best value was probably how he was sent on the ice when the team needed a wake-up call.
Rinaldo plays with the same desire, and he has been getting more time early in the season (9:36 per game entering Friday, compared with 8:23 last season).
"It doesn't matter what our record is, I'm bringing it every game," he said. "I play with my heart on my sleeve every game. I'm always going to play every shift like it's my last."
Rinaldo, who talks the way he plays (fast), said that while growing up in Hamilton, Ontario, his father, Rick, was the one who encouraged his style of play.
"My dad taught me a lot of things," Rinaldo said. "He was really hard on me, and if it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be here. He taught me if I don't play hard enough, it's embarrassing. So I don't want to be embarrassed. My last name's on my back, right? My family's name. And I play for the Flyers logo, too. So I don't want to embarrass the Flyers and I don't want to embarrass my family. That's what keeps me going."
The elder Rinaldo played Junior A and Junior B hockey.
"If I didn't play well, he gave it to me," Rinaldo said. "If I didn't practice the way he wanted me to, he would give me grief. So God help me now if I play like . . . in the NHL, I'll hear it. I call him after every game."
Rinaldo thrives on the fact his dad is his toughest critic. "I need him," Rinaldo said.
Maybe the Flyers should hire the elder Rinaldo as a motivational coach, because they would benefit if the rest of the team played with his son's passion.
Bang for His Buck
Zac Rinaldo isn't the league's biggest player, but the 5-foot-11, 180-pound winger has become one of the NHL's most physical. Here are his numbers, including the first four games this season:
Year Hits NHL Rank TOI per game
2013-14 24 1 9:36
2012-13 143 16 8:23
2011-12 175 47 7:29
- Sam Carchidi