Better With Popcorn

Zac Rinaldo Wants to Score Goals

The NHL has gone through a facelift over the last few years.

The memories of bench-clearing brawls and heavyweight goons are fading.  Physical-minded players who are capable of conforming to a finesse styled game centered on speed are emerging.
That’s exactly what 21-year old forward Zac Rinaldo has brought to the Philadelphia Flyers.
Selected with the 178th pick in the 6th-round of the 2008 Entry Draft, Rinaldo has quickly created a role for himself on the Flyers roster in only his first year with the team.
Largely influenced by the enforcer-heavy days of old, he shamelessly acknowledges it when explaining his game.
“My style of play is kind of old school,” Rinaldo said with a swagger. “Throwback, grind-it-out in the corner, and tough.”   
Then, without skipping a beat, he jumps to the other dynamic of his game that he hopes to make more prominent.
“I wanna be an all-around player,” he said. “I don’t wanna be known for just fighting or hitting. I wanna be known for scoring goals and passing.”
Such is the quandary of the modern NHL.
Rinaldo is exactly the type of player that has begun to evolve out of the rule changes of the 2005 lockout and the post-Crosby concussion NHL, usually described as the ‘energy guy’.  His role is far more intricate than that of his enforcer forefathers.
In times where six-feet and above, 220-pound skating statues patrolled the ice protecting team’s respective stars, the undersized Rinaldo may have found himself on the outside looking in.
However, the modern NHL is a league where players have outgrown the slow-moving goons of the past. Rinaldo’s ability to supplement his physical play with speed and skill has enabled his emergence this season.
“I think he is an energy guy,” Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette said of Rinaldo. “That’s his role [and] he’s an effective player at it.”
However, Laviolette is quick to assert that he views Rinaldo as a much more dynamic player than that.
“He’s a good hockey player as well,” he said. “He has speed and skill and can execute our game plan. On the way, he can provide that energy and that physical play we’re looking for.”
Without a doubt, his strongest asset is his ability to hit. Standing at 5’11” and only weighing 180 lbs, Rinaldo is able to successfully land some of the biggest hits you will ever see.
And he isn’t shy when talking about it either.
“I think I’ve perfected the hitting game,” Rinaldo said. “Every player has one big hit. All my hits are one of their huge hits. As long as it’s not dirty and no one’s getting hurt, that’s how the games supposed to be played. It’s supposed to be rough and tough.”
Interestingly enough, it was a former Flyers legend who inspired his game.
“I loved Eric Lindros,” Rinaldo said. “My hitting game is because of him. If I hadn’t watched him, I wouldn’t hit like [I do].”
Rinaldo still has developing to do, especially in terms of the physical game. Referees are aware of his reputation and have kept him on a short leash at times.
Laviolette understands the changes Rinaldo needs to make.
“Where he gets himself into trouble is over-extending the physical play,” he said. “He’s gotta limit it to what looks good out there and stay away from the ones that don’t.”
When talking about Rinaldo, the first thing out of an observer’s mouth is probably one of his huge hits or one of his fights.
If the Hamilton, Ontario native continues to work the way he has, he very well could develop into the well-rounded player he hopes to be.
“In my life, I wanna get better as a person and a hockey player,” Rinaldo said. “Every year I just developed, not because people wanted me to but because I felt I needed to in order to be successful.”
His coach agrees.
“He’s proven to me that he’s a reliable hockey player,” Laviolette said. “He’s a terrific kid and I’ve enjoyed working with him and hopefully he does continue to improve his game because when you put players on the ice like that, that bring that physical presence they’re really difficult to play against.”



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