Rinaldo: 'It's going to be a war'

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:52 AM ET

For Zac Rinaldo, body contact in hockey started at age eight.

Instant joy.

"I absolutely loved it right away," the London Knights human torpedo said. "I was always physical on the ice. I liked the aggressive style and that's how I've always played."

Rinaldo doesn't just hit opponents. He pulverizes them.

"When you hit hard, the glass above the boards sways back and forth and I think that gets people's attention," the 18-year-old from Mississauga said, "but the biggest roar you hear is for the open-ice hits. You don't see them very often so when you get one, people definitely appreciate it."

Head coach Dale Hunter admires it. He called Rinaldo the best hitter he's seen in major junior.

"He uses the power in his legs," Hunter said, "and the rule is that it's charging if you keep skating and drive into the guy. He glides in for the hit."

Not everyone loves the way Rinaldo conducts his business. Some believe he walks a fine line between fair play and suspendable acts on several of the hits he throws.

He's a lightning rod to start these OHL playoffs, mainly because the Knights have drawn Erie in the first round. On Feb. 13, Rinaldo took out big Otters forward Andrew Yogan with a devastating hit from behind. Yogan needed to be helped off the ice and hasn't played since.

Rinaldo was suspended eight games by the OHL. He said he didn't expect Yogan to turn away from the hit.

Erie tough guy Luke Gazdic called it scary to see a teammate down on the ice like that. The Otters were irritated they lost a valuable teammate for the stretch drive.

Tonight, they'll face Rinaldo for the first time since that game.

"It's going to be a war with Erie," Rinaldo said. "I'm looking forward to the playoffs. I'm excited ... and everything get ramped up. Last year's playoffs (in Mississauga), it was like playing a game in midget."

In his minor hockey days, Rinaldo admits he drew a lot of charging penalties for his checks. He made an important adjustment.

"I don't jump up and leave my skates to hit guys," he said. "What I try to do is get as low as I can and lead with the shoulder. You have to stop skating (three strides) before you hit or they're going to call you.

"I've seen some retaliation. Some guys will get their sticks up and try to cross-check you (to guard against the check) but if they do that, it's not right.

"I'm going to ask them to go."

Rinaldo carries a strong frame into the corners but at five-foot-11, 180 pounds, he's not big. He certainly doesn't have the same physical stature as the last Philadelphia Flyers draft pick to wear No. 77 for the Knights -- last year's leading scorer Pat Maroon -- but in aggression, it's night and day.

"I think guys don't expect me to hit them that hard," Rinaldo said, "but I bring a lot of force into it."

He was acquired in a pre-deadline deal with Mississauga for smooth-skating Kale Kerbashian. He finished the season on a line with John Tavares and Justin Taylor and will be looked on to cash in with those guys.

"Normally, the top guys play against the other team's top guys and so it neutralizes them," London assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "You go through the history of hockey and guys who don't score a lot in the regular season become heroes in the playoffs.

"That's what we're looking for here -- heroes."

There weren't enough heroes last spring. The Knights fell in five games to Guelph and are looking for a much longer run.

"They had all summer, and it was a long summer, to rest," Dale Hunter said. "This team is well-balanced. We'll see how it goes."

Right now, it's all about Erie. Rinaldo knows that.


Videos

Photos