BOSTON — Zac Rinaldo certainly has drawn the ire of his opponents during his first two games in a Bruins sweater.
But if the 25-year-old continues the on-the-edge-but-not-over-it style of play he’s shown so far, he just might win over some of the Bruins supporters who bashed the team’s decision to trade a third-round pick for him.
Though two preseason games, Rinaldo has recorded one assist, come close to netting two highlight-reel goals, drawn four penalties and committed none. So far, he’s made good on his promise to show he’s more than fists and dirty hits.
“That’s just the way it’s going,” Rinaldo said after Thursday’s 4-3 win over the New York Rangers. “I’m staying out of the stupid stuff, and I’m using my speed, and I’m just being a hard-nosed player. And guys aren’t liking it, and they’re taking penalties on it. I’m loving it. The more the merrier.”
The Rangers were a longtime rival of Rinaldo’s from his time with the Philadelphia Flyers, and it was clear a change in colors did nothing to mend those fences. Tensions came to a head during the third period, when Rinaldo leveled defenseman Tommy Hughes in front of the benches and subsequently was tackled by Rangers tough guy Tanner Glass.
Rinaldo was not called for a penalty on the play. Glass was.
“Typical hockey, as you know,” Rinaldo said of the exchange. “That’s just textbook hockey. You make a nice hit — and I think I hit a couple guys before that shift — and (Glass) came at me that shift. And I told him I’m going to keep running around. That’s just my game. They took a penalty on it, unfortunately we didn’t score on (it), but that’s just another part of my game that I can bring to the table.”
Head coach Claude Julien gave the hit his stamp of approval.
“Right there, it seemed to distract them (New York) more,” Julien said, “and it seemed like our guys were focused on trying to win a hockey game. He stayed out of trouble. It was a clean hit, and we’ll leave it at that.”
The Bruins failed to capitalize on the ensuing power play but potted the game-tying goal in the final minute of regulation and went on to win in a shootout.
Rinaldo’s past transgressions earned him a reputation as a dirty player, and the 14 games worth of suspensions he’s racked up made it difficult to argue otherwise. But he’s talked since joining the Bruins about learning to stay within the rules, and so far, he’s been much more Brad Marchand than John Scott. (Marchand himself agreed, saying “lot of people underestimate” Rinaldo’s game.)
He’s said his days of crossing the line are over. But he’s still more than willing to put his toes right up to it.
“That’s been hockey since I was 8 years old,” Rinaldo said. “That’s part of hockey. If someone hits my guys like that, if someone was like me on the other team and they were running around, I’m going to step up, too, and tell them they can’t do that. That’s what happened to me (Thursday night). But I really don’t care. I want to continue to hit and stuff like that.
“Some guys, they get told not to do it, and then they stop doing it. That’s something that fires me up and makes me do it even more.”
Thumbnail photo via Mark L. Baer/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Bruins center Zac Rinaldo during a game against New Jersey.