WILMINGTON, Mass. — Earlier this month, the NHL dropped the hammer on San Jose Sharks forward Raffi Torres, suspending him 41 games — a full half-season — for the latest in a long line of illegal hits.
Given Torres’ checkered history, the hockey community responded to the suspension with a collective “good riddance.” But for a player like Boston Bruins winger Zac Rinaldo, who’s had plenty of his own run-ins with the NHL’s disciplinary office, the ban was further proof of just how short the leash now is for repeat offenders.
“Raffi’s a great guy,” Rinaldo said after Friday’s practice. “I met him in the summer, and he’s a great guy. And we both understand how hard it is to make that right decision in such a quick millisecond — not even, quicker than that. But (the suspension) did open my eyes. My family and my friends told me, ‘You’d better watch out, because (the NHL is) not messing around.’ They want to make a mark, and they did that. It really opened my eyes.”
At 25 years old, Rinaldo’s career stats include more games lost to suspension (14) than goals scored (eight). Since being traded to the Bruins this past summer, however, he’s spoken at length about his concentrated effort to retain his edginess without crossing the line.
Thus far, he’s succeeded: Including preseason games, he’s drawn six penalties and committed just one.
“It’s been an ongoing process, even in juniors, AHL too,” Rinaldo said. “It’s just been an ongoing process, and I think finally, I’ve come to terms with the league and how it is. I don’t want to be suspended at all, never mind no Torres, unfortunately him being suspended 41 games – without pay, too. That’s the last thing I’m looking for. And on a new team, I love these guys in a room.”
Does Rinaldo still sometimes have the desire to just lay into an opponent? Yes, he admits. In Thursday’s season-opening loss to the Winnipeg Jets, for example, he recalled three or four instances of having to suppress the urge to “do some damage” to a Jets player.
“Not injure him,” the former Philadelphia Flyer clarified, “because that’s the last thing I want to do. But I could have made some serious damage.”
Never was that urge stronger than when Rinaldo watched teammate Patrice Bergeron take an illegal elbow to the head from Jets center Alexander Burmistrov. But he kept his anger in check, and although Bergeron picked up a roughing minor for retaliating — a move Rinaldo loved — the Bruins ended up on the power play.
“It is (hard), but if I think like that, I could fly off the handle,” Rinaldo said. “So, I really have to not even think about it, because if I think about it, I’ll just get too infatuated with the idea of doing it. So, I don’t even think about it. But if the opportunity comes to make a clean, hard hockey check, then I’m going to put everything I’ve got into that check.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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