WEST Vancouver natives Griffin Reinhart and Morgan Rielly didn't get the medals they were hoping for at the World Junior Hockey Championships last weekend in Ufa, Russia where Team Canada failed to live up to its gold-or-bust expectations.
The two defencemen were expected to help the talented Canadian squad, loaded up even more by locked-out NHL talent, get back to the top step of the podium but it all came crashing down as two playoff losses dropped Canada to fourth. It was the first time since 1998 that the team failed to win a medal at the tournament that grabs the spotlight in Canada every holiday season. The worlds ended on an even more sombre note for Reinhart as a somewhat baffling suspension kept him out of the bronze medal game.
The Canadians looked strong in the tournament's opening round, winning all four of their pool games against Germany, Slovakia, Russia and the United States to earn a bye into the semifinals. That, however, is where the wheels fell off as Canada faced the U.S.A. once more with the Yanks gaining revenge with a convincing 5-1 win to earn their way into the final.
The loss dropped Canada into the bronze medal game and dealt an even more crushing blow to Reinhart as he earned a four-game suspension for a high-sticking infraction against U.S.A.'s Vince Trocheck. The play earned only a two-minute penalty during the game but a disciplinary committee later ruled that Reinhart made "eye contact with his opponent, raised his stick and delivered a two-handed slash to the head and neck area of Trocheck, who fell to the ice as a result."
Reinhart and Team Canada's support staff disagreed with that assessment and the suspension.
"I wanted to be a part of that game (against Russia). It's the last game of the tournament, so it's really devastating to me," Reinhart said after learning of the suspension. "There's no way they can know what I was thinking but I wasn't thinking that at all. My track record is pretty good in the WHL. I'm not that type of player: I don't play dirty. It was completely accidental. The guy wasn't hurt on the play."
Reinhart said he wasn't even aware that there was going to be a disciplinary hearing until well after the game was over.
"That's the largest suspension, the harshest suspension of this event," said Hockey Canada's
senior director of hockey operations Scott Salmond, who attended the hearing with Reinhart. "We're trying to get some consistency, understand one game, two games, four games. When we're dealing with young players they need to understand what the standards are. . . . I'm never going to apologize for the way Canadian kids played. I don't believe Griffin Reinhart meant to slash that player in the head. I really don't."
The four-game suspension has long-term consequences for Reinhart as well because he still has one more year of eligibility left at the junior level. If he were selected for next year's tournament he would be forced to sit out the first three games.
This year's tournament, however, carried on without Reinhart and while the Canadians rebounded with a better performance against the Russians they still came up short, losing 6-5 in overtime after battling back from several deficits.
Rielly, featured on the team's second power play unit for much of the tournament, finished with a goal and an assist in six games while Reinhart, often used as a penalty killer, didn't score a point while picking up eight penalty minutes in his five games.
The two defencemen, who are longtime friends since joining the Hollyburn hockey program together as kids, won't have a lot of time to dwell on the loss - with the NHL revving back up after its lockout both of them will be attending their first pro training camps. Reinhart was selected fourth overall by the New York Islanders in the 2012 NHL entry draft while Rielly, who is also eligible for the 2014 world juniors, went one pick later to the Toronto Maple Leafs.