Every other year, Griffin and Sam Reinhart skated on the same teams in minor hockey.
Now the brothers from West Vancouver hope to be teammates for Canada at the world junior championship.
Griffin, a 19-year-old defenceman for the Edmonton Oil Kings who was drafted fourth overall in 2012 by the New York Islanders, is a lock to make the squad even though he will be suspended for the first three preliminary round games due to a suspension incurred at last year’s world juniors in Ufa, Russia.
Sam, who is in contention to be picked first overall in the 2014 NHL draft, is battling for a spot on the 22-man squad. Canada will be looking to end a four-year gold medal drought at the world juniors that begin Dec. 26 in Malmo, Sweden.
“It’s exciting — it goes back to minor hockey,” said 18-year-old Sam Reinhart, a centre for the Kootenay Ice. “It’s nice to get back with him.
“The last couple of years I’ve had to play against him and I don’t like that very much.”
They were on the ice together for some drills Friday as Canada opened a three-day camp on the international-size rink at the Mastercard Centre.
As expected, Jonathan Drouin was not on the ice.
The high-scoring Halifax Mooseheads’ forward is recovering from a concussion suffered in a Quebec Major Junior Hockey League game last week. The 18-year-old is expected to recover in time for the tournament.
The third overall pick by the Tampa Bay Lightning at the NHL draft in June was examined by team doctors on Thursday night. Coach Brent Sutter expects Drouin to be ready to skate and described his condition as “status quo.” He said it would not hinder the team’s preparations for the tournament.
Griffin, Sam and 21-year-old Max Reinhart, a Calgary Flames prospect, are the sons of former NHL defenceman Paul Reinhart. All three started out as defencemen, but Sam and Max both ended up as centres.
Griffin, a towering rearguard at six-foot-four 212 pounds, and the six-foot-one Sam are looking to become the third brother duo to play for Canada at the world juniors, after Randy and Mike Moeller in 1982 and Freddie and Dougie Hamilton in 2012.
“It’s always more fun playing with Sam than against him, so if he’s able to make it as well it would be awesome for me,” said Griffin.
The brothers embody two issues on the squad — Griffin’s suspension and Sam being among three “underage” players in camp along with Erie Otters’ 16-year-old phenom Connor McDavid and Barrie Colts defenceman Aaron Ekblad, who is one of Sam Reinhart’s main competitors for the No. 1 draft position.
Griffin was slapped with a four-game ban for a slash during Canada’s semifinal loss to the United States in Ufa. He served one game after that, and is suspended for the next four IIHF sanctioned events he enters.
He will miss the first three group stage games in Malmo against Germany, the Czech Republic and Slovakia but will return for a Dec. 31 showdown with the Americans.
“I’ve definitely seen the schedule,” he said. “I can’t play the first three, but coming back to play the States on the 31st — that’s a huge rivalry. Everyone in Canada gets hyped up for those games.”
That Canada included him among the 25 camp invitees showed they value Reinhart’s package of size, skill and leadership enough that missing three games doesn’t faze them.
They are games Canada should win, and Sutter will still have six solid rearguards in the lineups. Reinhart will also be able to mesh with his teammates while playing in pre-tournament exhibition games next week against Finland, Sweden and Switzerland.
But he appreciates the confidence the Hockey Canada management showed in him.
“It’ll be hard watching,” he said. “Everyone wants to play.
“I’ve sat out before in the WHL with injuries, so I’ll kind of take it like that. I know there was a chance they wouldn’t take me because of the three games. I’ll try to prove to them they made the right decision and try to be a leader on and off the ice when I return.”
They also had him paired with Matt Dumba, who was loaned to Canada for the tournament by the Minnesota Wild. Dumba is expected to be an anchor on Canada’s defence, and they could end up as the team’s top pairing.
Sam Reinhart found himself once again on a line with McDavid, with Kerby Rychel of the Guelph Storm on left wing.
Reinhart and McDavid, the runaway favourite to go first overall in the 2015 draft, have played together before, including at the world junior team’s summer camp in Montreal and Lake Placid, N.Y.
Reinhart moves over to right wing for the occasion.
“I had a chance to play with (McDavid) and the hype is not wrong by any means,” he said. “He’s a special player. It’s easy to play with him.”
Like with most national teams, there are more centres than spots to put them in, so a few have moved to the wings.
“I’ve already made the transition to right wing,” Sam Reinhart said. “Down the middle there’s so much depth on our team. I’ll play on the penalty kill, the power play, whatever they want me to do. I’ll be ready.”
Drouin’s absence left Frederik Gauthier of the Rimouski Oceanic and Josh Anderson of London Knights — the only player on the roster listed as a right winger with his team — without a third man for their line, although the units Sutter and his staff used on the first day of camp are likely to change.
If he is healthy, Drouin will likely play on whatever is the top offensive line.
Anthony Mantha of the Val d’or Foreurs, the QMJHL scoring leader, is a left-winger who found himself on the right side of London centre Bo Horvat and natural left winger Charles Hudon of the Chicoutimi Sagueneens.
Centre Curtis Lazar of the Edmonton Oil Kings was on right wing with centre Nic Petan of the Portland Winterhawks and Hunter Shinkaruk of the Medicine Hat Tigers.
And centre Felix Girard of the Baie-Comeau Drakkar played right wing with Scott Laughton of the Oshawa Generals at centre and Portland’s Taylor Leier on the left side.
During practice, the players were introduced to four former world juniors stars who were named honorary captains for the 2015 and 2017 tournaments to be shared by Toronto and Montreal. They are former Leafs Wendel Clark and Gary Roberts, former goalie Marc Denis and Montreal Canadiens player development man Martin Lapointe.
The team has an exhibition game Saturday afternoon against local university players and a practice Sunday morning before leaving for Sweden.