Sunday May 18, 2014
By Patrick King for the Canadian Hockey League
Griffin Reinhart is known to pick his spots on the ice.
He also picks them wisely off it. After his Edmonton Oil Kings lost Game 6 of the Western Hockey League final against the Portland Winterhawks, the fourth-year defender and captain of the Oil Kings stood up on the bus to the airport and addressed the team.
The message was simple: Reinhart asked his teammates to relax, regroup and begin looking forward to the next day’s pivotal Game 7 with the belief they would beat the Winterhawks after squandering their chance at home in Game 6 earlier that night. As powerful a statement as it was, the words were carried further because of the man who delivered them.
“He doesn’t say the most words, but when he says something, you better listen because it’s something really inspirational,” forward Curtis Lazar said. “From that moment on, we knew we were going to win Game 7.”
The Oil Kings won in Portland the next night, becoming the first visiting team in WHL history to capture the league crown on the road in a seventh game. It was Edmonton’s second league crown in three seasons, Reinhart’s first as captain. He was a sophomore defender in 2012 when the Oil Kings won their first title in modern history.
Reinhart evolved as a leader of the Oil Kings, taking a cue from Mark Pysyk, the captain of the 2012 team.
“Learning from him was an excellent opportunity to gain that leadership and see what it takes,” Reinhart said. “I think what he did most is he led by example. I think we lead in similar ways – we speak up when something needs to be said. Neither of us are rah rah kind of guys that are going to go out and be like those energy players, but we lead by example and we speak up when we need to.”
The Oil Kings embody the beauty of the junior cycle where today’s leaders are yesterday’s younger players learning from veterans. Lazar was a rookie in 2012 and is now a big part of the leadership group of this team as an assistant captain.
“Time flies,” Lazar said. “It feels like yesterday we were in Shawinigan (at the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup) and I was a little 16-year-old but you grow up fast in junior hockey. I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ve been fortunate enough in Edmonton to have that core group. You almost grow up together and it really takes the pressure off of each other.”
It’s all part of the culture head coach Derek Laxdal built in Edmonton. Winning breeds winning through lessons the young players learn and later pass down when their time comes.
“You get that in every organization. Your top players, your special players really set that culture in place and that’s one thing that we’ve tried to put in place with our team,” Laxdal said. “We’re trying to be like Calgary, we’re trying to be like the Vancouver’s, we’re trying to be like the Portland Winterhawks – we really want to have that culture in place and over the last four years, I think we’re going in the right direction.”
The leadership traits picked up by Reinhart and Lazar are proof of the culture in Edmonton. Lazar is more vocal than Reinhart, and in some ways already had the leadership qualities that are coming to the forefront now as a veteran.
“He came in as a 16-year-old and you really couldn’t tell his age,” Reinhart said. “He always played like he was one of the older guys in this league. He’s a good leader. He speaks when he needs to, he can go out there and make plays and leads by example. He has the whole package.”
Former teammates are watching the Oil Kings closely and passing along words of encouragement. Messages were posted in the dressing room for the current group to read and it’s providing inspiration for them now.
“There’s a couple notes from them that they sent on to our team to wish us luck and I think that definitely helped us too,” Reinhart said. “Everything that all those guys said had a value to it.”
Similar to the value Reinhart’s message was to his teammates on the bus.