All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players, according to famous playwright William Shakespeare.
For Kootenay Ice forward Sam Reinhart, his script for the 2014-15 season didn’t include a return to Cranbrook after he was selected by the Buffalo Sabres with the second-overall pick at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft.
Unfortunately for the native of North Vancouver, the Buffalo Sabres hold creative control over the production, and on Oct. 31, general manager Tim Murray decided it was time to revise and the 18-year-old pivot was on his way back to the WHL’s Kootenay Ice.
“It’s certainly not the way I planned this year to go,” Reinhart said Wednesday afternoon before practice at Western Financial Place. “But there’s certainly a lot of things I can take out of that experience and take throughout the year, learn and build off of.
“At that level, every shift you have to have that intensity. It’s not as much skating up and down the ice as fast as you can, it’s just intensity and urgency on the puck. You have to go and want it.”
The Sabres didn’t question Reinhart’s desire to “want it” out on the ice. In addressing the media Oct. 31, Murray said the decision came down to Reinhart’s size and strength.
The 2013-14 WHL Player of the Year skated in nine games for the Buffalo Sabres, tallying one assist while averaging 10:21 of ice time. By returning the native of North Vancouver to major junior prior to playing his 10th game of the NHL season, the Sabres avoid burning the first year of Reinhart’s three-year, $10.725-million entry-level contract.
“It was pretty exciting. I thought I handled it pretty well,” Reinhart said of his NHL experience. “There’s obviously a lot that went into that. But my focus now is here and getting better. Whenever my next opportunity up there is, I’m going to be sure to be ready for it.”
Cranbrook is the locale for the latest scene in Reinhart’s campaign. As he strives to improve, so do the Kootenay Ice, sitting last in the WHL at 4-13-0-0. With 38 goals for, the Ice are the lowest-scoring team in the league and have also allowed the second-most goals against (76), ahead of only the Saskatoon Blades (78).
After putting up 36 goals, 105 points and a plus-24 rating in 60 games during the 2013-14 WHL season, Reinhart will help stabilize the Ice in all facets of the game. But Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill suggested fans should temper their expectations for offensive output from the 2013-14 CHL Sportsman of the Year, at least for this weekend.
“He’s been playing with premier players that move the puck fast and I would suspect that some of our guys are going to be a step behind for his passing,” McGill said Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve seen it before and I’ve got enough experience at those levels and this level here, that he will be way ahead of people. Our job is to make sure he doesn’t get frustrated with that.”
As far as McGill is concerned, the stabilizing factor Reinhart provides comes in filling out the lineup in a way that puts the rest of his teammates in positions where they can comfortably focus on doing what they do best, building confidence along the way.
While the situation might seem black and white at this point, the complication that will linger is in how the promising young prospect continues to develop. The Sabres want Reinhart working on his strength throughout this season. As simple as it sounds, McGill isn’t convinced it’s completely realistic.
“Pretty tough to improve your strength during the season,” McGill said. “With him travelling next weekend to Saskatoon and Brandon [for the CHL Subway Super Series] and then probably a little bit less than a month later travelling to Toronto [for the 2015 World Junior Hockey Championships] and with our schedule, he’s going to have to probably do as much as he can without jeopardizing his habits when it comes to rest.
“It’s going to be a very big, fine line balancing trying to get stronger and it’s not something you can do during the season. During the season usually is maintaining your strength rather than gaining strength. If you’re gaining strength during the season, you’re usually not giving 100 per cent on the ice.”
How Reinhart handles the challenge of walking that tightrope will begin to unfold Friday when he makes his 2014-15 WHL debut as the Kootenay Ice welcome the Edmonton Oil Kings to Western Financial Place at 7 p.m.
With eight first-year cast members in the Kootenay Ice dressing room, there remains some familiarizing to do ahead of Friday, but as far as Buffalo’s blue-chipper is concerned, the situation is promising.
“The mood seems pretty good right now and that’s obviously a positive thing,” Reinhart said. “For me coming back, that’s a great thing to see and I’m obviously excited to turn this thing around.”
Though his original script had him cast with the Sabres, the latest revision has Sam Reinhart playing hero with the Kootenay Ice.