With a balance of offence and defence, grit and finesse, the Saskatoon Blades are closing out the shortened Western Hockey League season as one of the top teams in the East Division.
Blades head coach Mitch Love said players are also willing to step up and do some of the heavy lifting when called upon, like fourth-year defenceman Rhett Rhinehart.
“He’s been a physical presence on our back end. He has worked on his first pass out of our end of the ice,” Love said.
“He’s been a big part of our power-play and obviously our penalty kill. He’s a guy that we had to lean on for heavy minutes this year, and he’s doing a good job of that so far.”
“Being a fourth-year guy now, I know what it’s like to be in the younger guys’ shoes,” Rhinehart said.
“I do my best to reach out to the younger guys and hang out with them as much as I can to give them any words of advice on little things.”
Rhinehart started the season wearing a different uniform in a different league. The SJHL season started before the WHL and Rhinehart elected to play with them while the league was operating, both to help his game and honour his father.
“First off, my dad used to play for the (Flin Flon) Bombers so it was cool to see how it was for him when he was younger. Obviously, it was good since the season ended in March last time. It was a very long off-season so to get back into the team environment a little earlier, get back into games and practices, definitely was beneficial for me.”
Love said Rhinehart’s experience starting the season with the SJHL helped him to become a big presence on defence.
“And to have a good D, it’s very important for any hockey team, and he’s helping our young D groom because he is a veteran player as well,” Love said.
Rhinehart wasn’t selected in the NHL draft last year, despite many thinking he would be taken in the late rounds. So this year he has changed his philosophy: play with a little more of an edge and when mistakes happen, think about why they did and how to correct them, then move on.
“That’s been a big thing. I used to dwell on things a little bit too much, and forgetting about those things and just learning from them is way more beneficial,” he said.