Zac Rinaldo is entering his first season as a Bruin. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
With two preseason games now under his belt in a Boston Bruins sweater, Zac Rinaldo has already racked up four penalties.
Not taken four penalties taken, mind you. Not those of the 572 penalties-in-minutes variety that Rinaldo has accumulated on his own ledger over his 223 game NHL career.
These are four penalties drawn, the kind where Rinaldo’s rivals end up in the box.
Presented with this four-pack of information after Boston’s 4-3 shootout-win over the New York Rangers on Thursday at TD Garden, Rinaldo was pleased.
“Yeah, yeah, it was today, two, and… four penalties!” Rinaldo said. “Just the way it’s going, I’m staying out of the stupid stuff and I’m using my speed and being a hard-nosed player. Guys aren’t liking it and they’re taking penalties on me, which, I’m loving. So, the more the merrier.”
Rinaldo, 25, really got to “his game” Thursday in the third period with his squad trailing by a goal. With just under nine minutes to play, Rinaldo finished a hit and then briefly jostled with Rangers forward Tanner Glass. Then, three minutes later, after Glass and Rinaldo were chirping at a faceoff, Rinaldo raced down New York’s Tommy Hughes and checked him hard. Glass had had enough, and dropped Rinaldo with a blind-side punch before being hauled away for his crime.
“Typical hockey, as you know,” was how Rinaldo described the exchange. “That’s just textbook hockey, make a nice hit and I hit a couple guys before that shift and he came at me that shift, too. I told him I’m going to keep running around. That’s just my game. I did and he took a penalty on it. Unfortunately we didn’t score on it but it’s just another part of my game that I can bring to the table.
“That’s just hockey since I’ve been eight-years-old,” continued Rinaldo. “If someone hits my guys like that, if someone’s like me on the other team running around I’m going to step up, too, and tell them they can’t do that. That’s what happened to me tonight. But, I really don’t care. I’m going to continue to hit and stuff like that. Some guys get told not to do it and they stop doing it. That fires me up and makes me do it even more.”
Rinaldo’s teammates can’t help but notice the quick impact he has brought to the Bruins in the energy department.
“He’s at the top,” said Brad Marchand of Rinaldo’s place on hockey’s “pest” meter. “Even playing against him, he’s a tough guy. He’s one of those guys, you always have to know where he is because he’s coming full steam, and when he hits, he hits to hurt. He’s a great player to have on our team, and you saw it tonight. He does his job and his role better than anyone.”
However, Boston coach Claude Julien made sure to emphasize that Bruins’ organization thinks of Rinaldo as more than just a pest.
“There’s a lot more to that than what you saw,” Julien said. “He’s a great skater. If you watch him in practice, he shoots the puck well. There’s no doubt, he’ll give us some energy. We want to keep it within the rules and in an area where it doesn’t affect your team. Right there, it seemed to distract [New York] more and our guys were focused on trying to win the hockey game. He stayed out of trouble, it was a clean hit, and leave it at that.”
It’s the staying-out-of-trouble part that has seemed impossible for Rinaldo throughout his career to this point.
He has been suspended three times already in his short NHL career, to go with four total fines, with his most recent incident in January netting him an eight-game discipline by the league and $73,170 of lost game checks.
That’s to say nothing of Rinaldo’s four suspensions in the American Hockey League and six others from his three seasons in Juniors.
Said Rinaldo: “I’ve just got to think about it, you know? Really process it in my mind, visualize the play that’s going to happen before I do. That’s what I’ve been doing the last two games I’ve been playing. I thought I’ve been doing a really good job at it so I’ve got to ease into it and not come off the handlebars flying and actually think about the repercussions about ‘If I do this, this is going to happen’, or ‘If I don’t do this, this is going to happen’. I’m feeling confident and I’m doing that every game and haven’t taken any penalties or done anything over the edge.
“I’m [actually] taking more of a pest role now than my first two years,” Rinaldo continued. “My first two years I would just fight, straight up, just fight, ‘boom’. But now I’m thinking about [things], tonight I drew a penalty with four minutes to go in the game. We got some life from it and [later] scored. I want to play, I don’t want to be sitting in the box all the time. That’s a pain in the [butt] sitting in the box, getting cold, and then the coach not playing you after, maybe. Anything I can do to help my team and also myself individually and play, I’m going to do it.”
Will it all lead to Rinaldo being a Boston fan-favorite?
“I’m not going to change so I’m hoping they love me,” Rinaldo said. “That’s my goal. I’m just a down-to-earth guy. I’m a 25-year-old kid just playing hockey, having a good time. Hopefully everyone’s enjoying me.”