FOUR years ago the Huskies of the Hollyburn Country Club and the Winterhawks of the North Shore Winter Club faced off in a do-or-die playoff with a trip to the bantam provincial championships on the line.
Defencemen Morgan Rielly and Griffin Reinhart, along with forward Alexander Kerfoot, led the way for the Huskies while the Hawks were fronted by forward Colton Sissons and defenceman Dalton Thrower.
Smooth-skating Rielly gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead and the score stayed that way until the dying moments when Hollyburn, a program on the rise that didn't have near the pedigree of the powerhouse Winter Club, added an empty netter to seal the win.
"It was a huge upset, huge for Hollyburn hockey," Rielly told the North Shore News this week as he reminisced about those old battles. Those five players - three from the Huskies and two from the Winterhawks - reunited last weekend on the big board at the 2012 NHL entry draft held in Pittsburgh. The names Reinhart and Rielly sat right near the top of the board, back-to-back fourth and fifth overall to the New York Islanders and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively. Sissons and Thrower followed, again going backto-back, 50th and 51st overall to Nashville and Montreal. Kerfoot, 150th overall to the New Jersey Devils, made it a complete handful of draft-worthy players from that one bantam game.
"It's kind of cool when you look back on it," said Rielly. "At the time we were just playin'."
Now they're all potential pros, with the two former Hollyburn defencemen leading the way in the class of 2012. On Friday night a crowd gathered at Hollyburn to watch the draft unfold, knowing that experts were touting Reinhart and Rielly - childhood friends who met in the club's Cookie Monsters beginner's hockey program - both as potential top-15 picks, perhaps even top-10. They didn't have to wait long to hear the two names called, with Reinhart barely off the stage before his buddy Rielly was on his way up - top5 for both of them.
"The two of them seem to have been linked together since they were four years old. It's just a big thrill," said Hollyburn chief executive officer Ed McLaughlin, who has known both kids nearly their entire lives. "We've kind of looked back as far as we can - we don't think there's been two kids taken top 5 (in the same draft) from any association ever, other than the Sedins."
This wasn't the first time the pair has met at the top of a draft board - Rielly was taken second in the 2009 WHL bantam draft by the Moose Jaw Warriors with Reinhart following right after, going third to the Edmonton Oil Kings. They've stood out at every level, said McLaughlin, adding that Reinhart, now six-foot-four, has grown into an imposing presence on the ice.
"He's a big, strong defenceman. He's had kind of an NHL shot since he was 15 and now he's got the size to back it up," he said. Reinhart comes from a burgeoning family of hockey royalty - father Paul was an NHL standout and older brother Max and younger brother Sam are also highly touted prospects. "There's some great talent in the family, obviously, some good lineage there," said McLaughlin.
Rielly, meanwhile, has always been one of the best players on the ice, said McLaughlin.
"Morgan is just a tremendous skater and he has kind of been a lead player in his age group right from the get-go."
To go back-to-back with his good friend made the already intense experience of being drafted into the NHL even better, said Rielly.
"That's cool. It's a pretty great story how we grew up playing together and we're high picks into junior hockey and high picks again in the pro level. It's been a pretty cool story and I think it's just that much cooler to have him there with me."
They both owe a lot of thanks to the club that supplied high level coaching and gave the kids as much ice time as they could handle, said Rielly.
"Hollyburn has been a pretty huge aspect of my hockey career," he said. "I've always had great people around me at Hollyburn and I'm extremely grateful I had the opportunity to play for the Huskies."
There's a lot of credit to go around, starting with Hollyburn hockey coordinator Jack Cummings, but most of the kudos should go to the players themselves who have made the most of their opportunities, said McLaughlin.
"It's been a real collective," he said. "Being part of a small program I think we've had amazing coaching from our hockey co-ordinator Jack Cummings to Paul Reinhart, Stan Smyl - those guys were all involved in our program. When you bring that talent level and ability to any program you're obviously going to have success. But it really boils down to those two boys just being really talented.
"It's an amazing accomplishment for both kids and they both really deserve it, they're both two great guys," he said. "They've both worked very hard at the game for a long time."