A veteran NHLer player who spoke at an anti-vax rally has been barred from training camp for not being vaccinated.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have reportedly made it clear to Zac Rinaldo, a now-fringe NHLer who has played over 300 games during his nine-year career, that he’s “not welcome” at the club’s training camp. Rinaldo signed a one-year $750,000 contract earlier this year.
The 32-year-old isn’t the most highly-skilled player and as a “grinder” would likely be competing for one of the very bottom forward spots on the team, meaning he was not a lock to make it. However, the team hasn’t closed the door to Rinaldo in case he reverses course and decides to get vaccinated.
"The ball is in his court right now,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen told The Athletic. "We do everything as a team. That’s a requirement of being a Blue Jacket. We’re going with the group we have here, which is 100 percent vaccinated. We’ll see how it develops.”
Earlier in the year, the Blue Jackets fired an assistant coach for refusing to get vaccinated.
The news comes after Rinaldo spoke briefly at an anti-vaccine passport rally in his hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, for a fringe far-right Canadian political party in the days leading up to the country's election. The party actively courted the anti-vax, anti-mask, and COVID-conspiracy movements (they failed to elect a single member to the Canadian parliament.)
“I’m not anti-vax, I’m not anti-mask,” he said at an anti-vax rally. “I’m pro-choice.”
Rinaldo has not clarified why if he’s “not anti-vax” he has yet to receive the vaccine nor commented on the Columbus Blue Jackets response. Instead of lacing up his skates in an NHL dressing room he’ll be attending the training camp of the Blue Jackets minor-league team, the Cleveland Monster. If Rinaldo plays in the minors rather than the NHL he makes significantly less cash—$275,000 compared to $750,000, meaning each skipped vaccine shot will cost Rinaldo $237,500.
The Athletic’s Blue Jackets beat writer, Aaron Portzline, tweeted out that “the NHL Players’ Association is reviewing the (Blue Jackets’) decision to ban forward Zac Rinaldo.”
While the NHL hasn’t mandated vaccines it’s put in protocols that would greatly limit an NHL player who hasn’t been vaccinated ability to move around, especially when the team is on the road. This includes a player having to do a 14-day quarantine upon travelling from Canada to the States or vice-versa.
Leading up to the training camps that occur before the season, which begins in early October, some NHL teams are making a point of announcing their team is “100% vaccinated.” As the NHL nears the start of its season in the midst of the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic the vaccine plays an important role and the league said that they expect to have 98% of their players vaccinated by the start of the regular season.
It’s unknown if other players will de facto opt-out of the season because of vaccination status like Rinaldo. The vaccination is causing another small wrinkle for some teams as well, with players who waited to get vaccinated now having to miss a portion of training camp. For example, newly acquired Edmonton Oilers defenceman Duncan Keith will miss the start of his team’s training camp because he’s still quarantining after his second shot.
A hockey journeyman, Rinaldo has played for the Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins, Arizona Coyotes, Nashville Predators, and most recently the Calgary Flames before inking his deal with the Blue Jackets. In his 374 games, he’s scored 18 goals and 24 assists but has garnered over 758 penalty minutes.
Thanks to his history of goonish behaviour, Rinaldo isn’t necessarily the most popular player in the league and a few in hockey media decided to dunk on him following the announcement.
“Zac Rinaldo has turned down the first cheap shot of his life,” wrote one writer.
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