Rinaldo stirs up teammates, foes and fans

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

He's back and he's itching to go.

He promises to be a little more careful.

His return is good news for the London Knights. As the playoffs progress, he will become as important as the team's offensive stars.

Zac Rinaldo isn't really needed in this playoff series. The mini wrecking ball returned last night from a six-game suspension for his hit from behind on Erie Otter Ryan O'Reilly in the opening game of the Knights' first-round playoff series.

The Saginaw Spirit aren't the kind of team Rinaldo needs to do his best work against. Even though they have some size, the Spirit is not particularly physical. The Knights easily won Game 3 last night, 4-1.

But as the Knights advance against either Windsor or Plymouth, Rinaldo has a key role.

He is more than just a devastating bodychecker. He is an adrenaline generator. Rinaldo can jazz up a team that doesn't have any. He also has the ability, with one bodycheck, to take the jazz out of a team that has too much of it.

The affect he has on not only his teammates but the fans is evident. He received a nice ovation the first time he hit the ice last night and another the first time he hit a Spirit player.

But Rinaldo returns to the Knights lineup facing a real challenge. The latest suspension was not his first.

His style attracts the attention of the officials and the other team. Getting Rinaldo to go over the top is a favourite pastime for some teams.

In the second period last night, Rinaldo was on the ice for a faceoff in front of the Saginaw bench and was getting worked over verbally.

"I turned to tell them to say what they had to tell me to my face and (Tyler Murovich) pushed me sort of into their bench," he said. "About four or five guys grabbed me."

Rinaldo was given a double minor and misconduct.

Rinaldo knows he has to be careful. He doesn't want to change because his game is effective. He knows he's a marked man.

"The only thing I going to change is if it's along the boards," Rinaldo said. "I have to angle better so that I'm square with his chest. And if I'm not sure I'm just going to pin him or go hard on the puck with my stick.

"It's going to be a big task for me but I think I can rise to the occasion. Before I go out there I'm going to really think and concentrate before I do anything. I'm going to have to think in my head 'This is what happened last time when I hit this guy when I was in this position.'

"But I don't want to change how I play because they know when I'm out there."

In the first period last night, Rianldo didn't come close to hitting anyone from behind. If he wasn't in good position, he would ease the guy into the boards.

When the opportunity presented itself though, he wasn't hesitant to roll people over.

"It makes me nervous a little bit but I've been talking to the guys and my parents," he said. "I am nervous because if it happens again I know I'm in deep water. I don't think it's going to happen again because I learned my lesson."

Rinaldo just loves to play. Sitting out the six-game suspension was hell for him.

"It's a relief," said Rinaldo, who lined up with Justin Taylor and John Tavares. "There was a lot of frustration when I had to watch my teammates play. I want to be in the lineup. It was just killing me inside."

Rinaldo was like a kid on Christmas Eve.

"I didn't get much sleep last night but I woke up this morning with a huge smile on my face," he said. "I got to the rink at 11 o'clock, had a little pregame skate. I know the boys are happy that I'm back because I bring energy and I can open up the ice for them a little bit. And the fans have been great. They've really supported me through all this."

For good reason, they know how important Rinaldo will be before these playoffs are over.


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