With time ticking on Griffin Reinhart’s NHL dream, the Wolves defenseman remains focused on the process that will help him arrive there

When considering the most famous families to have graced the sport of hockey, there are several last names that naturally come to mind immediately.

The Richard brothers, of course, or the Mahovlich brothers, if you grew up watching the Montreal Canadiens in the early 1970s. Phil and Tony Esposito, who both stand out as an indelible part of the sport’s fabric in Chicago, are another distinguishable duo of brothers to have been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame since their playing days.

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Henri Richard (left), and Maurice Richard (right) in the Montreal Canadiens dressing room. This photo was retrieved from the Toronto Star.

Then there were the Hulls, and Mr. Hockey and his two sons Mark and Marty Howe.

For modern-day purposes, the Sedin twins are another iconic example of inseparable hockey brothers, having both played together on the same line for close to two decades with the Vancouver Canucks.

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Mark Howe (left), and Gordie Howe (right) are the only father/son duo to play with each other in NHL history. This photo was retrieved from http://www.ThePostGame.com

And we must not forget the trio of Staal brothers either, who are all in the midst of impressive NHL careers.

In terms of quantity however, the Sutter family collects praise for producing an astonishing nine NHL talents, spanning over two generations. They are without question the most prolific hockey family in the league’s history.

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The first generation of Sutters (Brian, Duane, Darryl, Brent, Rich, and Ron). This photo was retrieved from Pinterest.

But what happens when one brother receives many more accolades and publicity than another?

For example, Malcolm Subban, who is the backup goaltender for the Vegas Golden Knights [the Wolves NHL affiliate] shares the distinction with his younger sibling Jordan [of the AHL’s Ontario Reign], as the two lesser-known brothers of Nashville Predators star defenseman P.K. Subban. 

Like Malcolm Subban, this is a label that Chicago Wolves defenseman Griffin Reinhart can identify with, but would like to shake, as his younger brother Sam is in his third NHL season and has already established himself as a regular with the Buffalo Sabres. Their eldest brother, Max, plays for the AHL’s Belleville Bulls.

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Max Reinhart (left), Griffin Reinhart (middle), Sam Reinhart (right). This photo was retrieved from the Vancouver Sun.

The three brothers are the sons of Paul Reinhart, who was a fixture on the Calgary Flames blue line during the 1980s, so there was always a strong precedent for Griffin and his brothers to use for added motivation while they were growing up. And Griffin was well on his way to complimenting the Reinhart family’s NHL legacy in 2012, when he was drafted fourth overall by the New York Islanders.


As Wolves fans have gotten to know well, Reinhart is built like a freight train. Standing tall at 6-foot-4 and weighing 212 pounds, Reinhart exhibits a highly coveted combination of speed and size, which, for a defenseman whose job is to shut down the opponent’s top players on a nightly basis, is undoubtedly his greatest hallmark.

It’s this attribute that tempted the Islanders to make Reinhart there first-round selection nearly six years ago, and it’s why they hoped he could be a cornerstone on the back end for the franchise’s foreseeable future. Unfortunately for both parties, this did not come to fruition, as Reinhart only played nine games in an Islanders uniform, and is still working on making it as an NHL defenseman.

After getting just a brief sniff with the Edmonton Oilers the last couple of seasons, the Vegas Golden Knights claimed him in the expansion draft last year when the Oilers left him on their unprotected list. And initially, this appeared like Griffin’s best opportunity to make an NHL roster and play significant minutes for a young team. But Vegas has surprised the entire hockey world, and the Knights have resembled anything but an expansion team during their inaugural season.

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Griffin Reinhart during Golden Knights training camp. This photo belongs to the Las Vegas Review-Journal

The Golden Knights have remained remarkably healthy on defense, and Reinhart found himself exiled from the club’s group of top six rearguards in training camp. So it’s been another year in the American Hockey League for the 24-year-old this season, his first with the Chicago Wolves, and that’s where his focus is for now.

“Well I mean, obviously the goal is to play in the NHL, it’s not to play in the AHL. Vegas is pretty set up top right now though, so there’s not much I can do to get in that lineup. So for now it’s just about focusing on our playoff push down here, trying to clinch it, and than go from there. We’ve come a long way since the start of the year,” he said.

If Reinhart feels any pressure to get to the NHL and reaffirm what the Islanders felt about his game back in 2012, it would be understandable. And if the success of his brother Sam with the Buffalo Sabres or the legacy left by his father have created overwhelming expectations for the Wolves defenseman, I think many people could empathize with that. But Reinhart denies feeling any added pressure to match the hockey careers of anyone in his family.

“No, I don’t really care about that. I grew up with that, it’s all I know. My dad played, and he grew up with that. To be honest, it doesn’t even feel like we’re that big of a hockey family because when we’re together, we don’t really talk that much about hockey. We’re a close family, but I don’t feel any pressure from them,” explained Reinhart following a 2-1 loss to the Manitoba Moose on Saturday at Allstate Arena.

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The Reinhart family and hockey go together like french fries go with ketchup, but according to Griffin, they surprisingly don’t spend all that much time talking about the sport together.

“I talk to my brothers all the time. Maybe once or twice a year, we’ll talk about hockey during the season. We try to stay away from that. I check on them every now and then, but we’re brothers first and we talk about hockey second,” he said. But back at the junior level, when Griffin would play against his brothers more frequently as a member of the Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings, he admitted that his parents disliked watching them on opposite sides.

“I think they’re fine with it now that we’re all on different teams. Back in junior though, we used to play against each other sometimes and I don’t know if they were too happy with that. But I know they’re proud of us,” Griffin said.

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Griffin Reinhart, as captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL

The former first-round draft choice has registered two goals and eight assists for the Wolves in 47 games this season, and sports a differential of plus-15, which is good for second best on the team. He’s arguably been Chicago’s most reliable defenseman all season, and he hopes his play can raise a few eyebrows among NHL executives.

Reinhart knows the clock is ticking on his NHL dream, but also recognizes that just focusing on the process and staying patient is paramount while he awaits his next opportunity as a call-up.

Reid Duke has been in the midst of an adjustment period since returning from injury, but look for him to gradually improve and allow his skill to shine

While I still believe that Reid Duke will eventually play a key role as a forward for the Chicago Wolves, perhaps the 21-year-old deserves a pass if his first four games in professional hockey haven’t been anything to write home about. Duke has the skillset to be a game changer, and at some point his talent will be on full display. But after missing more than five months with a shoulder injury, it’s only normal that it’s been an adjustment period since his return.

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Photo of Chicago Wolves forward Reid Duke, courtesy of the Las Vegas Review-Journal

Following the Wolves 2-1 overtime loss to the Rockford IceHogs on Sunday afternoon at Allstate Arena, head coach Rocky Thompson addressed Duke’s play since coming back from a long absence.

“Let’s not forget, Reid was out for a long time, and it’s going to take a bit of time for him to get some of the rust off. That’s only normal. But I thought today was one of his better games,” coach Thompson said of the Calgary, Alberta native.

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Photo of Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson, courtesy of http://www.chicagowolves.com

As a junior player for the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, Duke registered 254 points in 311 games, so there is good reason to believe that his soft hands and quick wrist shot will eventually translate into offensive production at the pro level.

While Duke has yet to record a point with the Wolves, and has a plus/minus differential of negative three, it is important to recognize that he is competing with and against players who are in midseason stride.

But fortunately for the Wolves, Duke exhibits speed and elite level skill when the puck is on his stick. Look for him to gradually improve game by game in terms of his execution and confidence.

By the time the playoffs roll around, look for Duke to be a top-six forward for the Wolves. The combination of his ability to finish off plays, and T.J. Tynan’s playmaking skills could potentially be a dynamic duo for head coach Rocky Thompson’s hockey club.

My vote for the Chicago Wolves unsung hero award goes to Jake Bischoff, what about yours?

It was a slow Monday in the news department, as far as anything Chicago Wolves was concerned, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any discussion topics.

Below are a few notes related to the Wolves that I put together, so please don’t hesitate to continue the discussion by posting your own comments and opinions below this post. I’m looking forward to interacting with you!

Links

Goaltending depth has been a luxury all season for the Chicago Wolves, and it should pay dividends come playoff time

Not only is quality goaltending important, the Chicago Wolves are living proof that it goes hand-in-hand with having quality goaltending depth in their organization.

Unlike clubs who still have the traditional starter who plays over 60 games during the regular season, and a backup who only plays about 15-20 games, the Wolves have been blessed to feature three goalies this year who are all of a starter’s caliber.

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Photo of Wolves goalie Oscar Dansk, courtesy of http://www.chicagowolves.com

Between Kasimir Kaskisuo (13-13-0), Oscar Dansk (7-0-0), and Maxime Lagace (11-4-1), the Wolves are not only equipped for a big game, but a busy schedule too, and that is what they had this weekend with three games in three days.

“We just go in when asked. I mean I’m sure you could get three games out of a guy, but it’s not optimal, and it’s always good for one of us to come in after getting some rest,” said Kasimir Kaskisuo following the Wolves most recent string of three games in three days.

In situations when the Wolves play on back to back days, especially when travel is involved, it is a luxury to be able to always play a fresh goaltender who could step in and give his tired teammates a shot of life.

Although this didn’t result in three wins this weekend, the play of Kasimir Kaskisuo on Saturday against a fresher first place Manitoba Moose team, is in all likelihood a key reason why Chicago kept it so close.

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Photo of Kasimir Kaskisuo, courtesy of http://www.chicagowolves.com

And in the third and final game today against Rockford, it was Oscar Dansk who was a major reason why the Wolves managed to secure just one point.

“With three games in three nights, it’s tough on players. Especially a day like this, yesterday and today, you wanna help out your teammates as much as you can, because you know they’re going to be tired,” said Dansk, who made 37 stops on Sunday in the Wolves 2-1 loss against the IceHogs.

Chicago head coach Rocky Thompson even highlighted the benefit of being able to play a fresh goalie like Oscar Dansk when the rest of his team was tired.

“And you need that in these situations, especially when you’re playing a good team, and a team that’s trying to get back into a playoff spot. And I thought he kept us in it, without a doubt. He played so well,” said coach Thompson.

Having different quality options in goal to turn to, the Wolves could have an advantage in the playoffs, especially when fatigue kicks in and injuries begin to pile up.

Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson believes rest is what his team needs most following Sunday’s 2-1 overtime loss against Rockford

The American Hockey League’s schedule makers didn’t do the Chicago Wolves (33-19-8-2) any favors this weekend, as the hockey club played a total of three games in less than 72 hours this weekend.

Following a 4-3 victory on Friday evening at Milwaukee, the Wolves fell 2-1 to the Manitoba Moose on Saturday at Allstate Arena. On Sunday, Chicago was forced to settle for just a single point in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Rockford IceHogs.

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IceHogs and Wolves during warm-up on Sunday at Allstate Arena

But despite what may look like a modest 1-1-1 record over the weekend, Wolves head coach Rocky Thompson is not disappointed with these results.“We were up against it I felt this weekend. Looking at the schedule, I was nervous,” Thomson explained.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.chicagowolves.com

“We were able to get that first win, and then the next game was obviously a tough way to lose last night. I mean Manitoba is one of the best teams in the league, and they were sitting here waiting for us. And then with Rockford coming in, they only had to play one other game this weekend, we felt that they would probably be fresher,” the coach reflected, before offering praise of his players.

“To be able to steal a point, I’m happy with [that]. Our guys competed as hard as I thought they could have, considering the circumstances. I’m proud of their effort,” he said.

One of those players, was Sunday’s starting goalie Oscar Dansk, who was brilliant all afternoon to allow his teammates in front of him to settle down and find their legs.

“With three games in three nights, it’s tough on players. Especially a day like this, yesterday and today, you wanna help out your teammates as much as you can, because you know they’re going to be tired,” said Dansk, who stopped 37 of the 39 shots that the IceHogs fired on goal.

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Photo courtesy of http://www.chicagowolves.com

But in addition to the perseverance shown by the Wolves through the course of this busy weekend, coach Thompson emphasized that getting tested this way now, could actually benefit his team when the playoffs roll around.

“It tests you without a doubt. There’s going to be situations when you’re fatigued and tired and you’re going to have to push through. [In the playoffs], the only benefit is that the other team is in the same situation as you  are. But our guys know that they can push through,” he said.


Naturally, coach Thompson would like his club to return to its winning ways in their next game, when the Wolves face Rockford in a rematch, but he doesn’t believe that he needs to reinvent the wheel for his players this week at practice. Instead, he feels the complete opposite.

“You know what, our guys need to rest. We came off the road, we’ve been away from our families a lot in the last three weeks. So our guys need to rest,” coach Thompson acknowledged following Sunday’s defeat.

“I’ve been pushing our team extremely hard in the last six weeks. I’ve really been grinding them, and that comes at a cost. And I think they need to get away from me for a little bit to refocus,” he added.

It’s sometimes easy to forget that professional athletes are also people who have families. And after the recent physically and mentally taxing stretch for the Chicago Wolves, it would be hard to imagine Rocky Thompson’s group not benefiting from a bit of rest and relaxation.

Despite an early adjustment period, recent acquisition Zac Leslie is complimenting the Wolves transition game from defense to offense

When the Chicago Wolves acquired defenseman Zac Leslie from the Los Angeles Kings in exchange for future considerations in early February, they acquired a player who likely needed a change of scenery in order to rediscover his game as an offensive defenseman, but more importantly, his confidence. Not only has his ability to move the puck effectively helped the Wolves transition game since the trade, he’s also had a positive impact on his new teammates in the locker room.

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Photo from the Chicago Wolves

“I think he’s getting his confidence up. He came over and didn’t try to do too much at the start. He kinda got his feet wet, and now he’s starting to reach his full potential. He came in, and he’s a good guy off the ice. He’s gelled in with the guys really quickly, which I think helped make him feel more comfortable and that’s translated into his on-ice play,” said fellow Wolves defenseman Griffin Reinhart of his new teammate.

Wolves forward Brandon Pirri highlighted Leslie’s skating ability as perhaps his greatest strength.

“He skates so well. I think in this league, if you’re a defenseman that can skate, you’re going to have a lot of success,” said Pirri, who scored his 23rd goal of the season in the Wolves losing effort on Saturday night.

Despite the Wolves 2-1 loss to the Manitoba Moose, which snapped Chicago’s six-game winning streak, Leslie played a solid game in the eyes of his head coach, Rocky Thompson.

“I think he’s defending better. And he’s competing. He’s a good guy, who’s well liked by his teammates, and you can see that he moves pucks well. He’s on our power play because he moves pucks well, but I like the fact that he’s defending better than he was earlier on, and he’s working on those details and those fundamentals that are important to us,” coach Thompson highlighted following the loss.

Leslie, who scored the game winning goal for Chicago when the Wolves defeated Milwaukee by a score of 4-3 on Friday, has now registered an impressive seven points through 11 games with the Wolves since coming over from the Ontario Reign. And he attributes his play recently to his confidence, even though it didn’t happen instantly.

“It was definitely an adjustment period when I first got here,” he explained.  “I don’t think anybody really thought I was playing the games the way I should have the first couple games. But then I kind of just got familiar with the guys, and got to know their tendencies, and the tendencies of the team really. And once you get comfortable, it kind of gives you that opportunity to really settle in, and it kind of gives you that opportunity to kind of make more plays and branch out from there,” said Leslie.

The Ottawa, Ontario native Leslie also acknowledged that the system with his previous team wasn’t tailored in such a way that complimented his offensive creativity.
“In Ontario, the system is very very defensive, and I wasn’t put in an offensive role, but instead to try and just make sure that I don’t get scored on. And that’s not really my game,” said the 24 year old.

“Obviously as a defenseman, my job is to not get scored on, but I like to chip in on offense and make plays, and that’s something that I’ve been able to do since coming to Chicago,” said Leslie.

When he arrived in Chicago as a member of the Wolves, Leslie highlights the fact that the organization really wanted him to play, and regain his confidence offensively while continuing to play responsible on the defensive side of the puck as well.

“They just wanted me to start playing, and gain confidence. I’m an offensive defenseman, so that’s going to be my job and that’s something they’re relying on me for. But at the same time, they want me to make sure that I’m being responsible defensively in order for them to have the trust in me. I think the biggest thing is earning their trust, and that’s not something that happens overnight. It’s a process, and it’s a process that I’ll continue to work at,” Leslie said.

For now, and moving forward into the future for the Wolves, Leslie’s two-way game should continue to help Chicago’s transition game from defense to offense, but his presence in the locker room with his new teammates shouldn’t be overlooked either.

Wolves will lean on rested goaltender Kaskisuo for second game in three consecutive days

Tonight, the Chicago Wolves (33-18-6-2) play host to the Manitoba Moose (35-16-4-4), who currently lead the central division by four points. This is the Wolves second game in three consecutive days, so they’ll be relying heavily on rested goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo, who didn’t play last night in Milwaukee against the Admirals.

Enjoy the game,and don’t forget to follow me on twitter @davidpstein_