Sitting on the Kootenay Ice bus outside Everett, Wash., last Sunday, Sam Reinhart received a call he had been anxiously awaiting.
The 19-year-old Kootenay Ice star was one of 29 players named to Team Canada selection camp for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship Monday morning.
“It’s been on my mind for quite some time,” Reinhart said Thursday afternoon prior to Kootenay Ice practice at Western Financial Place. “I’m obviously looking forward to it.”
With 17 forwards on the preliminary roster, there are no guarantees for Reinhart. That being said, as one of only four returning forwards from the 2014 squad, the North Vancouver native and second-overall selection of the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres is about as near a lock as they come.
“From what I learned last year, it’s a tough tournament to even get to the medal stages,” Reinhart said. “It takes a big effort out of the group to buy in to the process.”
Team Canada hasn’t medalled at the World Junior Championship since earning bronze in 2012. With such a wide array of experience, Reinhart is hoping to take on a leadership role this year as Canada strives to end its medal drought.
“There’s quite a few of us with experience from the tournament last year and I know that’s an important thing,” Reinhart said. “We did have good leaders last year as well, and we learned a lot from them. That’s a big thing in a tournament like this.”
In net, Zach Fucale of the Halifax Mooseheads returns, while Chris Bigras (Owen Sound, OHL) and Josh Morrissey (Prince Albert, WHL) represent the two returners on the blue-line.
Joining Reinhart for a return engagement up front are forwards Frederik Gauthier (Rimouski, QMJHL), Connor McDavid (Erie, OHL) and Nic Petan (Portland, WHL).
There are plenty of obvious assets Reinhart brings to the table, evidenced by an 11-game point streak that has seen him register 23 points for the Kootenay Ice. There’s no questioning the two-way ability of Kootenay’s star captain.
But Ice head coach Ryan McGill, who served as an assistant coach with Canada’s 2014 World Junior Championship entry, believes it is the intangibles that set Reinhart apart, not only at the major junior level, but on the international stage as well.
“I know this for a fact, whether he is named captain or whether he is considered a leader,” McGill said Thursday, “[the tournament] is in Canada — [Sam] doesn’t fizzle or have any phase to pressure. He is calm, he is collected. Nobody can ever see on his face whether you’re up by a goal or down by a goal. He’s always the same player.
“Those are the intangibles that mean more to me. I know how he’s going to compete in the games. He’s going to try to be the best player on the ice. He’s going to make his linemates better…The pressure of being in Canada — he can handle it better than anybody I know. Yes, I’m a little biased, but he backs up my words.”
The Buffalo Sabres prospect was steady at last year’s tournament in Malmo, Sweden, tallying two goals and five points in seven games.
Team Canada selection camp opens Dec. 11 in Toronto. Reinhart will head east Dec. 10 following a Dec. 9 meeting between the Kootenay Ice and Medicine Hat Tigers.
Reinhart is one of 14 WHL players named to Team Canada selection camp.