For his entire WHL career, Sam Reinhart’s calling card has been an innate ability to find open space where no one else sees it.
The Kootenay Ice captain did exactly that in collecting his 300th career WHL point Friday night in a 4-1 victory over the Edmonton Oil Kings.
“That first [point] seems like a long time ago now. I didn’t even find out I got 300 [points] until after the game,” Reinhart said Friday night. “It was a nice thing to find out. That being said, the win tonight was more important.
“You saw us getting better as the game went on. We played our best hockey in the third [period] when it really mattered and came down to it.”
Reinhart’s first goal of the night and 300th WHL point stood as the eventual game-winning goal in front of a season-high packed house of 3,224 at Western Financial Place.
With a four-on-three power-play opportunity 7:10 into the third period, Reinhart snuck down low to the back door before taking a pass from Luke Philp and depositing it to the back of the net behind Edmonton Oil Kings goaltender Tristan Jarry.
“It was kind of a broken play at first and then Rinat [Valiev] regrouped the puck and made a nice play at the blue line,” Philp said, recounting the sequence leading up to Reinhart’s goal. “One of their guys fell down so we had a little bit of room. I just held it as long as I could. I was going to take it to the net there, but then I saw Sam on the backside so I slid it over. He made a nice shot.”
Reinhart, a 19-year-old native of North Vancouver and first-round selection of the Buffalo Sabres (second overall, 2014), becomes the first player in Kootenay Ice franchise history to hit the 300-point plateau.
Through 238 career WHL games, the 6-foot-1 pivot has 116 goals and 303 points to his name.
His first-career WHL point was a goal he happened to score as a 15-year-old against the Edmonton Oil Kings way back on Oct. 19, 2010.
“Sam is an unbelievable player and he’s an even better guy,” Philp said. “You learn a lot watching him. You can’t give the guy a bad pass ever. He always finds a way to pick up passes in his feet. He’s a special player.”
Reinhart’s milestone marker snapped a 1-1 tie in what had been a back-and-forth, tight-checking game through 40 minutes of play.
The Oil Kings opened the scoring 12:52 into the first period after forward Luke Bertolucci snuck his seventh of the season past Kootenay Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin.
With the second period winding down, 20-year-old veteran Levi Cable sent a seeing-eye single towards Oil Kings goaltender Tristan Jarry. Appearing to be screened on the play, Jarry couldn’t find Cable’s long power-play point shot and the two teams headed into the second intermission tied 1-1.
“They came out really hard. They wanted to set a physical pace early and we kind of let them set the pace for the first couple periods,” Philp said. “Hof [Wyatt Hoflin] played great for us tonight and we were able to stick with it and have a good third [period].”
By the time the night was over, Hoflin made an astounding 46 saves to earn his 29th victory of the campaign. If not for Reinhart’s 300th point stealing the storyline, Hoflin’s lights-out performance was a strong second.
“To hold them to one goal is pretty big for us, especially when they’re right behind us in the standings,” Hoflin said after the game.
“Anytime we play someone in our division, it makes it that much more important. But where we are in the standings, every game is important, especially when everyone below us seems to be winning. We’ve just got to keep going, keep pushing.”
Philp added an insurance goal by finding a hole on Jarry’s low glove side. Reinhart wrapped up the scoring with a shorthanded, empty-net tally with two seconds remaining on the clock.
Ice defenceman quietly put forth a strong night, registering three assists before the final buzzer.
The Oil Kings outshot the hosts 47-26 by the time all was said and done.
In a Saturday road date with the Spokane Chiefs, Hoflin one again grabbed his share of the spotlight, making 29 saves to lead the Ice to a 5-0 victory over the Spokane Chiefs.
The shutout was the third of Hoflin’s career.
Ice forward Jon Martin opened the scoring 8:41 into the first period and his tally stood as the eventual game-winner, with Philp and Jaedon Descheneau rounding out the scoring, each with a pair of goals.
“It’s not very easy playing there [in Spokane],” Reinhart said Friday, looking ahead to the tilt with the Chiefs. “It’s a big building and the fans are into it.”
The Kootenay captain registered two helpers Saturday to extend his point streak to four games.
Veteran forward Austin Vetterl also collected two assists Saturday night against the Chiefs.
Including Saturday’s tilt in Spokane, the Ice face five consecutive games away from Western Financial Place.
According to Philp, Friday’s victory stands to provide the Ice with building blocks as they head out of town in hopes of building on the recent success.
“Even with the slow start, if you stick with it, the game can turn in your direction,” Philp said. “That’s what happened [Friday against Edmonton]. They were walking all over us in the first period and a half. Hof did hold us in there.
“As a group, sticking with it — once we get one [goal] and being able to build off it — sticking with it is the main thing.”
The Ice visit Swift Current (Feb. 24), Regina (Feb. 25) and Brandon (Feb. 27 and 28) before returning to Cranbrook for their next home date March 6 when the Red Deer Rebels visit Western Financial Place.
Interview audio: Luke Philp discusses Friday’s win over Edmonton:
Highlights: Edmonton Oil Kings 1 at Kootenay Ice 4 (Friday, Feb. 20, 2015):
Highlights: Kootenay Ice 5 at Spokane Chiefs 0 (Saturday, Feb. 21, 2015):