Fiery friendship reunites Griffin Reinhart, Morgan Rielly at top of NHL draft class
PITTSBURGH — It was their day in the sun and it shone like Africa.
The National Hockey League arranged for top prospects in tonight's entry draft to conduct their media availability Thursday atop a paddle-wheeler, bobbing lazily on the Allegheny River amid near-record temperatures. It was 33C – like two days added up in Vancouver. Two days' worth of humidity, too.
“I'd like to slowly work my way up to this heat,” West Vancouver defenceman Griffin Reinhart said, sweat beading on the 18-year-old even as he moved nothing but vocal chords. “I'm pretty hot right now. It's lot different than Vancouver.”
Everything was different for the Reinharts, whose patriarch, Paul, never heard from a NHL team during his draft year until he got a call from Atlanta Flames' general manager Cliff Fletcher telling the defenceman he'd be chosen 12th overall in 1979.
Then Paul, whose 11-year career ended with the Vancouver Canucks in 1990, went back on the ice after taking a break from practice with the Canadian Olympic team.
Since his Western Hockey League season with the Edmonton Oil Kings ended a month ago, Griffin has been on a month-long whirlwind tour, testing and interviewing with NHL teams and doing a steady stream of interviews that culminated with the hour-long riverboat interrogation by dozens of sweaty journalists.
Equally besieged and uncomfortable was Griffin's friend, Morgan Rielly, his childhood teammate at Hollyburn Country Club and, remarkably, another defenceman expected to be among the first 10 draft choices tonight.
Rielly was perched on a chair about 30 feet and a heat mirage across the deck.
Griffin has been hotter.
As a kid, he was on fire – or at least his upstairs playroom/hockey rink was on fire.
The Reinhart boys, who include Calgary Flame draft pick Max and 16-year-old Sam, the WHL rookie-of-the-year and another potential NHL star, always seemed to have a hockey game going. If it wasn't on the tennis court outside the family home, it was in the upstairs playroom.
“They found ways to play every imaginable game up there,” Paul Reinhart said, proudly standing next to his middle son. “They had skill games, contact games. They dragged Sam up there when he was a baby. They dragged him up the stairs in a car seat and put him in net. To our horror.”
But that wasn't the worst thing that happened in the playroom.
“The walls were pretty banged up until me and my little brother burned it down by mistake,” Griffin said. “We got a new room after that and no more hockey.”
The boys and their friends, including Rielly, had used a baseboard heater for target practice. The Reinhart kids would also wrestle one another, using a futon mattress to soften their landings. When it was time for more hockey, the boys simply shoved the futon out of the way. One day Griffin and Sam shoved it against the heater and left.
“I didn't have anything to do with it,” Rielly said. “[Griffin] had a good area up there – a net with sticks and pucks. It was carpeted, but there were these plastic mats to shoot off of. Sam would strap the pads on and we'd whip pucks at him. It was fun.”
It's only fun until someone ignites the walls and dad comes home at lunch when the kids are at school and walks into a wall of smoke.
“The fire department came, the whole thing,” Paul said. “It could have been a lot worse. We were out of the house for two or three weeks. That room is no longer what it was.”
But Griffin and Morgan are even better.
TSN projects Reinhart to be drafted fourth over-all, while The Hockey News ranks him eighth. Rielly, who plays for the Moose Jaw Warriors, is rated sixth by The Hockey News and eighth by TSN.
They represent an astonishing achievement for Hollyburn's minor hockey program, but merely the continuation of a golden age for British Columbia hockey.
From the time North Vancouver's Paul Kariya was drafted fourth in 1993 until Andrew Ladd of Maple Ridge went fourth in 2004, there were only two B.C. players chosen in the top-10. Since Ladd, there have been nine more, including 2011 first-overall selection Ryan Nugent-Hopkins of Burnaby. Reinhart and Rielly would make it a dozen.
“I wouldn't say they drove each other,” Paul Reinhart said. “They just quietly pushed each other by being good players. I think they're better friends now than they were a couple of years ago because their paths have come back together. And, c'mon, West Van's not that big. They don't go very far without running into each other.”
They ran into each other in the WHL playoffs.
Griffin, 6-4 and 207 pounds, is a powerful, puck-moving blueliner. Morgan, 6-0 and 190, is a fast, dynamic, offensive defenceman. Think Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith and you're not far off.
The boys have been friends since they were three.
“It's pretty cool how it all happened,” Morgan said. “It seems just a year ago we were playing atom together and travelling [to tournaments] and stuff. And here we are in Pittsburgh for the NHL draft.”
With the sun shining upon them and promising to grow even brighter.
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