MONTREAL — New Buffalo Sabres signing Sam Reinhart wants to focus on nothing else but making Canada’s national junior hockey team.
The 18-year-old Reinhart is taking part in Canada’s one-week development camp being held just outside Montreal. The squad is preparing for the 2015 world junior championship, which gets underway Dec. 26 in Toronto and Montreal.
Reinhart joins 38 other young Canadians vying for a spot on head coach Benoit Groulx’s final 22-man roster.
"I’m here this week trying to give myself the best opportunity to make the team," said Reinhart, who scored in Canada’s 6-2 victory over the Czech Republic on Tuesday. The game was the first of four exhibition matches involving the Russian and Czech national junior teams.
"It’s gone well so far," added Reinhart. "It’s always tough for a lot of the guys coming in during the summer. After the first two practices, things have really started picking up. There are always going to be a few more mistakes now than when December comes, but we’re aware of that, and we’re battling through that."
Reinhart has hockey coursing through his veins. His father Paul played 11 National Hockey League seasons with the Atlanta/Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks in the 1970s and ’80s. Sam’s brother Max was drafted by Calgary in 2010, and his brother Griffin was chosen fourth overall by the New York Islanders in 2012.
Sam Reinhart did one better, as he was drafted second overall by the Sabres in this year’s draft. Three weeks ago, Reinhart signed a three-year entry-level contract with Buffalo.
The North Vancouver, B.C., native is captain of the Kootenay Ice in the Western Hockey League, where he has scored 101 goals in 203 games. Last season, he was named the WHL’s Player of the Year.
The six-foot-one centre also captained Canada to a gold medal at the U18 junior world cup in 2012, and again at the U18 IIHF world championship in 2013.
At the 2014 world junior championship in Malmo, Sweden, Reinhart scored two goals and had three assists in seven games. Canada ultimately lost 2-1 to Russia in the bronze medal game and finished fourth at the tournament for the second year in a row.
If Reinhart plays in the upcoming tournament, which culminates with the gold medal game in Toronto on Jan. 5, Buffalo’s top prospect says this year is all about redemption.
"A lot of the guys who were there feel it," said Reinhart of Canada’s tough loss to the Russians. "It’s not an easy tournament to win by any means. We felt we were getting better each day throughout that tournament, and it was one slip-up that cost us. We know how fast it can all be taken away, and you can’t take that for granted."
If Buffalo decides the junior championship is not beneficial to Reinhart’s development — or if the forward is already playing for the Sabres at that point — there won’t be any individual redemption for Reinhart after last year’s fourth-place finish.
"It’s not really on my mind right now," he said. "I’m just trying not to think about it too much. When I have the opportunity to make my name in Buffalo, I’ll be focused there as well."
It’s at each team’s discretion whether they want their signings to play the tournament. Hockey Canada will have no choice but to accept the Sabres’ decision.
"Sometimes, when you look at your line-up and you have guys like Reinhart, you realize how good they are when you’re on the ice with them," said Groulx. "We want them to be in the show, but in a selfish way, you’d like to have them with you at Christmas time."
Canada is suffering through a five-year gold medal drought at the tournament after winning five consecutive years between 2005 and 2009. The team’s last medal, a bronze, came in 2012.
After three exhibition games in mid-December, Canada opens the 11-day tournament with a group game against Slovakia in Montreal. Canada will play its four round-robin matches at Montreal’s Bell Centre.
The Canadians are in Group A with the United States, Finland, Slovakia and Germany.
Toronto will welcome teams from Group B, which includes Russia, Denmark, the Czech Republic, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Groulx knows that Reinhart’s potential absence will leave a big gap on the team, and will dull Canada’s offence.
"Sam Reinhart is the kind of player that, when everything is disorganized on the ice, when he touches the puck, everything gets organized again," said Groulx. "That’s a sign that he knows what he’s doing, it’s a sign of maturity, it’s a sign of a very good hockey player.
"Sam is doing everything right. He’s a great young man who loves the game."
Notes: Team Canada’s second exhibition match is Wednesday versus the Russians in Sherbrooke, Que. … Defenceman Aaron Ekblad, who suffered a concussion in Tuesday’s game, did not skate with his team on Wednesday. The Florida Panthers prospect will miss the remainder of the national junior development camp. … With 15 gold medals, Canada is the most successful country in the competition’s 38-year history. … Finland won last year’s tournament, beating Sweden in the final game.