Their father, Paul, was a smooth-skating, skilled D-man. But highly touted Sam and Griffin – and their brother Max – are all very different. Yet all the boys share the same quest – a regular NHL gig.
By George Johnson Watching his father, Paul, on ESPN Classic is like being transported into another world for
Sam Reinhart. But it’s not his dad’s skill that has Sam in awe. The effortless skating style, crisp passing and ability to read the play in the high-octane ’80s – all of that transcends eras and styles. Besides, as the most hotly anticipated teenage talent outside the NHL not named
Connor McDavid, Sam has all those qualities himself. No, it’s that luxuriant thatch above Paul Reinhart’s upper lip that gets Sam’s attention. “I’ve been trying to grow that mustache for 19 years,” Sam said. At 19, Sam may not be able to manage his father’s Chia Pet mustache, but as the baby of the hockey-playing Reinhart brood, he’s the closest in style and the highest in hype.
As the second-overall choice in last summer’s NHL draft and a star on Canada’s gold-medal-winning world junior troupe, Sam is the playmaking pivot the Buffalo Sabres imagine as the centerpiece of their rebuild. His style and smarts have top-10 scorer written all over them.
Next up is
Griffin, the fourth-overall selection of the New York Islanders in 2012 and a Memorial Cup champion with Edmonton last year. As a 21-year-old defenseman in his first pro season in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, he plays his father’s position, though he doesn’t own the finesse of Paul or Sam. Griffin is a big, physical shutdown blueliner – the kind the Islanders need to help back a blossoming offensive team. And at 23, there’s the eldest,
Max, a center drafted in the third round by Calgary in 2010. He’s trying to prove himself worthy of full-time promotion to the Flames from the AHL outpost in Adirondack. Each brother has had a tantalizing taste of the NHL, yet none has established himself. After being drafted in the summer, Sam saw duty in the maximum nine games for the Sabres before being shipped back to the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, and Griffin can count eight NHL dates in two stints with the Isles, while Max has had four starts in Calgary this season and 23 since turning pro. Sam was voted the No. 1 NHL-affiliated prospect by a panel of 13 scouts for THN’s
Future Watch issue. Griffin is No. 13. He was No. 11 in 2013 and No. 23 in 2012. Max isn’t among Calgary’s top 10 this year, but was the Flames No. 3 prospect in 2012, No. 10 in 2013 and No. 9 in 2014. He’s never been ranked in the top 50 overall. Their father, a defenseman so skilled his legendary Calgary coach ‘Badger’ Bob Johnson considered him a cornerstone-caliber player, chalked up 560 points in 648 career games between the Flames and Canucks from 1979 to 1990.
Paul retired in 1990 at 30 due to a bad back, an injury that plagued him nearly his entire career and almost forced him to retire at 24. The boys hadn’t even been born yet, so unlike a lot of other second-generation NHLers, they weren’t brought up in the dressing room.
“I wasn’t an NHL-playing dad to them,” Paul said. “I was a dad. When they were little, I was able to take them into the room, oh, maybe once or twice in their lives, so they certainly weren’t indoctrinated through direct experience.” Instead, the brothers came to the game on their own. They played a smorgasbord of sports as kids: hockey, soccer, tennis and even golf (PGA player James Love is a cousin of the boys). Whatever caught their fancies, Paul and his wife, Theresa, encouraged them to play as they grew up in West Vancouver. “All three were incredibly athletic-minded,” Paul said. “They wanted to participate in anything. So we never prioritized hockey over other sports. We encouraged athleticism, period.” It wasn’t until their early teens that the Reinhart boys had to choose a path. The lure of hockey proved too irresistible, but if anyone deserves credit for nudging them in that direction, they all agree it’s Max. Griffin and Sam, quite naturally, followed the lead of their older brother. “The great thing about Max was he enabled his younger brothers to be equals,” Paul said. “None of the big brother/little brother ‘Get lost!’ attitude. They looked up to him because he was the oldest, but he didn’t look down on them…They played together as if there was no age separation between them whatsoever. They inspire each other. They’re great friends. And more than anything, they’re peers.” For Griffin and Sam, that desire to emulate big brother made all the difference. Their natural skills took it from there. “We all kind of followed the same route,” Griffin said. “Max carved the way, so it felt natural for me to follow him and for Sam to follow me.” With Sam in Kootenay, Griffin in Bridgeport and Max in Adirondack, the brothers are scattered. They keep in contact despite their varied schedules.
“We’re all close,” Sam said. “We’ve gotten closer the last few years. Being able to train together in the summers makes it more fun, more competitive. There’s no one you’d rather beat in the gym than your brother. We talk quite a bit, not just about hockey. Not a lot about hockey, actually. We’re all curious what everyone’s up to.” What they’re up to is setting about establishing NHL careers. Griffin is viewed as a big piece in the Islanders’ renaissance that shifts to Brooklyn for 2015-16, while Max continues to work to crack Calgary’s lineup, though with the Flames in a phase of renewal, a change in venue may be required to kick-start his career. “As I’ve learned the past couple years, (the NHL) is a tough league to get into,” Max said. “But it’s not like I’m the first one to go through this. There are a lot of guys who’ve had the same path as me. Glimpses, then you get sent down. Mentally, it teaches you. You have to learn from the disappointment and somehow use it, help it improve your game.” And Sam? He hasn’t been able to grow that mustache, but he can doubtless grow his game in Buffalo.
Evander Kane manning the left flank on his line next year, maybe? Sharing power play time with McDavid, perhaps? Regardless of his linemates, Sam knows it’ll be a huge step up from junior.
“The pace is what’s different,” he said. “You hear about that all the time, but it’s true. You just have to learn to do everything faster, to feel comfortable with the game at that speed.” While it’s too early to call them Sutter Lite, with only three brothers instead of six and their collective NHL resume less than a half season in aggregate, all three second-generation Reinharts are looking to carve out individual niches, just like their mustachioed patriarch did 35 years ago. “I’m incredibly frustrated and disappointed for the boys, because none of the three have attained the goal they want,” Paul said. “They’re not interested in signing NHL contracts, they’re interested in playing in the National Hockey League. “Do I think that all three are good enough? Absolutely. But there are a lot of people good enough to play in the National Hockey League. You still need opportunity. We’re hoping that’ll come soon, for all of them. But obviously we’re not quite there yet.”
This feature appears in the Future Watch edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.