DENVER, CO -- Throughout his career, Max Reinhart has had one knock against him.
He’s too small.
At 6-foot-1 and 180 lbs., Reinhart knows he isn’t going to intimidate anyone with his size. But that criticism – that he simply can’t compete physically with the opposition – hasn’t diminished his desire to play or his belief that he has what it takes to play in the National Hockey League.
In his junior days, he was able to play an in-your-face style because he was squaring off against teenagers who, like him, had yet to physically mature. Lining up against 230 lbs. men is a whole other story and when the 2012-13 season started, he wasn't able to be as effective as he was in his WHL career due to his size.
Knowing exactly what he needed to do, Reinhart worked tirelessly at shaping his game to fit the pro level and has spent many an hour at the gym, fastidiously trying to add mass to his frame. He has trained extensively with Abbotsford Heat strength and conditioning coach Mike Thompson throughout the year as he worked through the growing pains that come in everyone's first professional season.
He got off to a slow start - picking up just four points in his first 31 games - but his hard work began to pay off in the back half of the season.
Reinhart began to look more confident in the latter stages of the 2012-13 campaign, showing no fear when going into the corners and battling along the boards. The muscle he was able gain from his training allows him to compete more against players with larger frames and has helped his offensive game. He has five points (three goals, two assists) in his last seven games with the Heat and has managed to put 29 shots on net in his last 12 outings.
"Not the start I was hoping for," he said of his first AHL season. "I was able to come into the AHL last year and play very well, but this year, I wasn't producing the same way.
"There's been a lot of ups and downs so far."
The Flames, needing another body in light of Curtis Glencross being sidelined, rewarded Reinhart for his dedication and performance down in Abbotsford by recalling the forward on Saturday morning. The move also allowed the West Vancouver, BC product to play his first NHL game in front of his father, former Flames defenceman Paul, and his mother Theresa.
"I couldn't have asked for a better situation," he grinned.
And just like the start of his first professional season, the start to his first NHL game didn't go as smoothly as he would have liked. Just 34 seconds into the game, the Canucks were able to break into the zone and beat Miikka Kiprusoff to open the scoring. That, however, isn't something that should weigh on the youngster's mind.
"If that's a lesson he can take, it can be a very valuable one," head coach Bob Hartley said after the game. "And the minus was not a result of any of his actions.
"We're all very pleased with his game."
He got his footing as the game rolled along and by the third period, he looked extremely comfortable skating against veterans like the Sedins, Alex Burrows and Alex Edler. The 21 year-old put three shots on Cory Schneider and was credited with one takeaway when all was said and done.
"I felt a lot more comfortable (as the game went on)," Reinhart said post-game. "I thought the biggest thing for me was finding a comfort zone out there.
"(I'm) learning as I go along."
He also used his body well, throwing one hit in his 16:08 of ice time along with playing a gritty game along the boards.
"I tried to show them that I'm big enough to play here," he stated. "That was one of the things I was trying to work on today and hopefully it showed."
Reinhart’s next challenge will come on Monday night when he moves over to centre ice, taking on the likes of Ryan O'Reilly and Matt Duchene in the faceoff circle. He played on the left wing in Vancouver on Saturday night, letting the coaching staff get a feel for his game, but Hartley indicated he wanted to move the natural centre over to the middle against the Avs.
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