CEDAR RAPIDS — He did get a little TV time. That really was Mitch Reinke you saw on NBC Sports Network the other night.
The camera panned to the St. Louis Blues bench at one point after the club’s 5-1 win Tuesday night over San Jose in Game 6 of the NHL’s Western Conference finals.
The Blues had clinched their first Stanley Cup Finals appearance since 1970, and everyone was celebrating, including Reinke and the rest of the players who weren’t dressed for the game. He wore a natty looking sport coat, purple shirt and tie, a championship hat and playoff beard.
Blues star Vladimir Tarasenko came over and gave him a hug.
“The guys are awesome,” Reinke said during a phone interview last week. “They’re very welcoming, always ask you to join them for dinner, play cards and just hang out. So it’s been awesome here. A really good group of guys, very tight knit. So you can see why they have success on the ice.”
He meant ‘we,’ of course. The former Cedar Rapids RoughRiders defenseman definitely is a part of this.
Even though he hasn’t gotten into a game, yet, he is one of three “Black Aces” for the Blues, guys called up from the minors at the end of their American Hockey League season who are eligible to play. Forward Jordan Nolan and defenseman Chris Butler, both of whom played some with St. Louis this season, are the others.
They practice and travel with the team, have to be ready to go at a moment’s notice. Reinke has been living in an apartment in St. Louis since mid-April.
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“Anytime you’re around the NHL, how you are treated, the lifestyle, the perks that go with it are pretty special,” he said. “To be around the playoffs, now the Stanley Cup Finals, is pretty cool. Definitely hoping they can close it out here.”
The Blues and Boston Bruins play Game 1 of the best-of-7 finals Monday night at 7:05 in Boston. It’ll be on NBC.
“Everyone in St. Louis is just really excited,” Reinke said. “We were at the Cardinals game yesterday, and they showed us on the big screen. The whole stadium stood up and started clapping. It’s just really exciting right now. I think this city is really hungry for a championship, and they know they’re close.”
Reinke, 23, knows he’s close to having a full-time job in the NHL. His first full professional season saw him named to the AHL All-Rookie Team, setting a San Antonio Rampage club record for points by a defenseman.
He played in all 73 of San Antonio’s games, scoring 11 goals and 43 points. The Stillwater, Minn., native signed as a free agent last year after his sophomore year at Michigan Tech University and played one game with the Blues, getting 13 minutes of ice time.
“I thought I had a good year,” Reinke said. “I think I developed all around, my all-around game. That’s what I came in looking to do, most importantly. Obviously the points came with my play this year, but I think I developed in a lot more areas than just the offensive side of things. Which is good.
“(General Manager Doug Armstrong) just said ‘You are here (right now) because we think you can play.’ That was a huge compliment in itself. I’m sure I’ll have an exit meeting when everything is over, but just talking to guys like Al MacInnis and Keith Tkachuk (Blues scouts and longtime NHL players), hearing what they have to say is definitely good reinforcement.”
Reinke played the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons with the RoughRiders and said he keeps in regular contact with some of his former teammates here, Coach/General Manager Mark Carlson and his old billet family, Brad and Angela Meisterling of Cedar Rapids. In just three years, he has gone from the United States Hockey League playoffs to the Stanley Cup Finals.
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“Time definitely goes quick “ he said. “I think there’s just a path for everyone. Mine, I grew a little bit later, so another year in Cedar Rapids was huge for me and helped me spend two years in college and then eventually sign and get to where I almost want to be. I want to play (regularly) in the NHL, and I’m pretty close, so I’ve got to keep going. But to look back at where I was not too long ago is pretty cool. All the connections I formed then and all those people I still talk to.”
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