He wasn’t stripped of the letter. But he no longer had a C on the front of his sweater.
This situation is brought to you by other letter Cs: C for circumstance, C for coaches.
Rhett Rachinski was a surprise choice to wear the captain’s arm-band for the Edmonton Oil Kings entering his 18-year-old season. Entering this, his 19-year-old season, the Edmontonian was another player looking to fit in with a new coaching staff. It was a rough start.
When Derek Laxdal entered as head coach with Steve Hamilton as an assistant, soon top D-man Mark Pysyk was the new captain.
“The first half of the year was tough for me. I wasn’t performing as I knew I could,” Rachinski said on Monday. “I had a lot to adjust to. Coming off that shoulder surgery, I hadn’t played in a long time. You don’t want to make excuses for yourself, but I had a lot of things to get through.”
If he’s no longer sporting a C, he sports one of the best nicknames in hockey: “Chinner.”
There’s two obvious reasons, one coming from the ‘chin’ in Ra-chin-ski. Plus, there’s a less obvious reason: he’s been able to keep his chin up in an up-and-down junior career.
At 17, during a rough season for the team around him, he ended up scoring what is the single-most important goal — and will always be among the top — in the revived franchise’s history.
In the Oil Kings’ second season, they stumbled at the end of an unlikely push for the last playoff spot and had to travel to the wilds of Prince Albert for a “73rd” game. Rachinski ended it in overtime.
So what if they got swept by the league-best Calgary Hitmen, it was a moment.
Along that route, a Rachinski talk in the dressing room is what convinced then-coach Steve Pleau to make him his man.
The next season proved deeper and darker, without the light of a playoff at the end of the tunnel. Rachinski spent stretches on the injured list and, at the end, the coach that gave him the C was given an F and sent packing.
“I consider myself a leader on this team regardless of whether I’m wearing a C, an A, or if I’m not wearing a letter. As far as I’m concerned, I’m just doing my part.
“I’m just at a place right now where I can focus on my game and not worry about any other stuff.”
A key moment was in a 6-5 shootout loss to Medicine Hat on Jan. 22.
After Rachinski set up two goals in a 3-0 lead, he jumped a Tiger who munched rookie Ryan Dech into the boards. It was ‘heart in the right place,’ but ‘now’s not the right time.’ The resulting power-play goal got the Hat on the board on their way to erasing the deficit.
Laxdal singled it out as selfish. But he didn’t sit the player out.
“I don’t know if there was one game particularly that was the transition point,” said Rachinski. “The last couple of months I’ve managed to find my game.”
Sometimes it’s been as a two-way guy adding grit on the wing, or centring scorers. But, mostly, it suits him that Laxdal likes to have line combos made up of two-wayers.
“This coaching staff is, if you’re playing well, they are going to give you an opportunity. And if you’re a guy that can be responsible in the D-zone and can make something happen at the other end, then you’re going to get some ice time.”