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ONE OF A KIND

Compare others to Zac Rinaldo and he'll say he's a unique breed

Sunday, 08.11.2013 / 10:40 AM ET / News
By Anthony SanFilippo  - Philadelphia Flyers Inside Reporter
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ONE OF A KIND

VOORHEES, N.J. - When told he was being compared to Zac Rinaldo, earning the nickname “Zac 2.0” by the Flyers scouts, third round draft pick Tyrell Goulbourne was excited, calling it an honor to be compared to an established NHL player.

When he was told that Goulbourne was given that nickname, Rinaldo had the opposite reaction.

“I’m different,” he said. “There is only one of me. There can’t be two of me. You can play similar [to me] but there is only one of me.”

Yep, that mold was broken a long time ago.

Zac Rinaldo doesn't mind the reputation of being unafraid to drop the gloves, but he wants people to know there's a lot more to him than that.

Regardless, Rinaldo is back in town a month before training camp is set to kick off, and just his presence at Skate Zone brings about a different attitude and a different approach to summer skating workouts.

Sure, there’s only a small sample of Flyers players at the rink, being joined by a collection of prospects and the like, but Rinaldo’s energy on his first day back has really put a charge into these usually mundane sessions.

Mini-games during practice suddenly became a bit more… vocal. The vibe in the locker room certainly was more upbeat. And right in the middle of everything is Rinaldo, who on the ice can chirp with the best of them and off the ice is as fun-loving and down to earth as they come.

And at the same time, he’s as serious about preparing for the hockey season as almost anyone in the NHL.

Ryan Podell, the Flyers assistant strength and conditioning coach, had some high praise for Rinaldo.

“He’s the most athletic player I’ve ever worked with,” Podell said. “I’ve been around a lot of elite athletes (both with the Notre Dame Football program and the Indianapolis Colts prior to the Flyers) and there’ve been some really good ones, but Zac is at the top of that list.”

And Rinaldo is fueled by the desire to keep getting better and continue to develop into a player with a bigger role and greater responsibilities.

“That probably surprises a lot of people,” Rinaldo said. “But I’ve always been committed to my fitness. Ever since I was drafted I was training here in Philly every summer. Working with the staff here has definitely improved my athletic ability.”

And with increased athleticism has come his meteoric rise through the organization.

Rinaldo, 23, has grown from a kid the team took a flier on in the sixth round of the 2008 NHL draft into a legit NHL energy player who fits in wherever he is needed and serves as that great agitator that everyone loves to hate.

And in parts of three seasons with the Flyers, he has seen his game grow exponentially.

From the 2011 playoffs, when he made his NHL debut in two games against Boston where he was throwing his body around wildly trying to wake up a team that was sluggish, to the following season when he played 66 games for the Flyers and accrued 232 penalty minutes, earning a bit of a reputation around the NHL to last season when he became a more versatile option for coach Peter Laviolette, Rinaldo has seen his game evolve.

“I’m (yearning) for the chance to do more,” Rinaldo said. “I’m dying to get on the penalty kill. I’m dying to play a regular shift like everyone else. Last year I thought I did a pretty good job when Lavy would throw me out there in different situations with different guys to get more ice time opportunities here and there. I took it and ran with it and I think I did very well for myself.

“I hope I made an impression too because this year it’s the more the merrier for me. The more work, the more responsibility, the happier I’ll be.”

And this isn’t a case of Rinaldo making an early pitch for himself. Laviolette admitted at the end of last season that he wanted to use Rinaldo more than he did but was limited by a lack of practice time in the condensed season to really get him the repetitions he needed to get a more regular shift on special teams than he was getting.

Since then, Laviolette has added that he expects Rinaldo to have a bigger role moving forward, so don’t be surprised to see him killing penalties in the preseason.

Killing penalties will be one thing, but avoiding penalties will be something else entirely.

Rinaldo wants to bring his intense, competitive nature on ice to the Flyers penalty kill this season.

In just 98 career NHL games, Rinaldo has 317 penalty minutes. It doesn’t take a math wiz to realize that means he averages more than one penalty per game.

And while a good number of penalties last season, upon further review, appeared to be more of the reputation-induced variety than an actual infraction, Rinaldo knows that’s a challenge he personally has to find a way to overcome.

“I still have a lot of work to do with the officials, but I’d say the last 20 games or so of last season I really got a grasp of what I need to do to play the way I want to play and have a relationship with the refs,” he said. “I started being polite with the refs. I’m not looking to start drama with them. I’m just being myself with them – the way I am with people off the ice. If I can keep it that way, I’m going to have a long, successful career with them.

“The refs probably thought I was a (jerk) off the ice too. They probably thought I was a rude, arrogant kid no matter where I was – on-ice or off-ice and that I was always just trying to be tough. That’s the total opposite of what I am. I am a respectful guy and a down-to-earth, normal person. They need to see more of that from me on the ice. It sucks that I have to do that to play the way that I play, but I get it. It took me about 20 years of playing hockey, but I get it now.”

And the more he gets it, the better a player he will be for the Flyers. And if he puts it all together the way the Flyers hope, then he can be a good role model for Goulbourne too – and maybe become more comfortable with another player emulating his style.

To contact Anthony J. SanFilippo, email asanfilippo@comcast-spectacor.com or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37

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