Sam Reinhart stepped off the bus and into Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Monday afternoon with the universe unfolding as it should for him.
Earlier in the day, Reinhart, projected as the No. 1 pick for the 2014 draft, was among the nine Western Hockey League players named to the 25-player Canadian team selection camp, beginning Dec. 12 in Etobicoke, Ont., for the 2014 world junior championship in Malmo, Sweden.
“I’m definitely excited . . . it’s a huge honour,” said Reinhart, who leads the Kootenay Ice (15-12-2) into tonight’s WHL game against the Victoria Royals (18-11-1).
“It’s always motivating when you’re playing the best in the world,” added Reinhart, the third-youngest player invited to the Canadian junior camp, through which the final 22-player roster will be determined.
The world juniors could be the start of the kind of rare year that only a select few players get to experience. But the 18-year-old’s understated demeanour belies all the hype swirling around him.
“Every day, it [media attention] is definitely going to be there and I have to accept that,” said the centre, who has 16 goals and 46 points in 29 games this season for the Ice.
Sidney Crosby notwithstanding, offensive stars aren’t always the obvious, or best, choices for team captain. But it’s the measure of Reinhart that he captains the Ice and has captained Canada at the Under-18 worlds and the WHL team in the recent Subway Super Series against the Russian juniors.
“I don’t try to do too much that’s different because of that title [captain]. I just try to lead by example and be consistent each day,” he said.
Reinhart could play at the world junior championship with brother Griffin Reinhart, captain of the Edmonton Oil Kings of the WHL, who was selected No. 4 overall in the 2012 NHL draft by the New York Islanders. (Blue-liner Griffin, however, has a carry-over three-game suspension from the 2013 world juniors with which to deal.)
Sam played his rookie season on the Ice with another brother, Max Reinhart, a 2010 Calgary draft pick who over the past two seasons has had 15 games called up to the Flames from Abbotsford of the AHL.
With dad Paul Reinhart a former NHLer with nine seasons with the Flames and two with the Vancouver Canucks, you would think it was all hockey all the time as the Reinhart boys grew up in West Vancouver. But that wasn’t the case. Family sporting interest was varied and ranged from soccer to tennis to lacrosse, with talk around the kitchen table as likely to focus on Milos Raonic or the Champions League as it does on the NHL.
“We were never pushed into hockey,” said Sam.
“We also played soccer, tennis and lacrosse and have lots of sporting interests. When we’re home, we rarely talk about hockey.”
But hockey is what the Reinharts are known for in the world of sports. And Sam may turn out to be the best of a gifted trio of brothers.
Ice bench boss Ryan McGill ruminated on the job of a WHL head coach, who must deal with an NHL-bound prodigy like Reinhart alongside the vast bulk of players who will likely end up in the minor-pros, CIS or out of hockey.
“We all know the percentage of players who go on to pro hockey. Not everyone is going to play pro, so you don’t motivate some kids in the same way you would others,” said McGill.
“You find something for each player.”
Reinhart is the kind of project that only comes along rarely.
“Sam is a special player,” acknowledged McGill, who will assist Canadian head coach Brent Sutter at the 2014 world junior championship.
“We try to prepare him for every situation, like today’s [Canada junior team] announcement. But overall, we treat him like everybody else. He is such a well-grounded and even-keeled kid.”
But one who can inflict great damage on a defence.
“He’s a very smart player and he’s never in a bad position,” said veteran Royals rearguard Brett Cote, who will see Reinhart bearing down on him tonight.
“We have to take away his time and space.”