Coyotes' Rinaldo returns for 1st NHL game in 20 months

Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

The ban has finally been lifted.

When the Arizona Coyotes square off against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday, they will do so with a little reinforcement in the lineup, as agitating winger Zac Rinaldo is set to make his season debut.

It marks Rinaldo's first game since Feb. 28, 2016, a contest in which the former Boston Bruins forward delivered an illegal hit to the Tampa Bay Lightning's Cedric Paquette. Rinaldo was subsequently suspended for five games following the play.

It appeared as if it would be Rinaldo's final NHL game. The 27-year-old spent all of last season with the AHL's Providence Bruins and hasn't skated in the big leagues since the incident.

But another shot in the NHL came this offseason, when Rinaldo inked a deal with the Coyotes. The expectation was that Rinaldo would toil in the minors, but a strong performance in training camp saw him earn a spot with the big club.

Rinaldo was scratched through Arizona's first five games of the season, effectively - and finally - serving his five-game suspension. The ban now lifted, combined with a slow start to the season for the Coyotes, has left the team looking for a spark. Enter Rinaldo.

"He's an energy guy," Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet told reporters Monday. "He's the type of guy that can get some life on the bench and he doesn't hurt you on the ice."

Rinaldo is penciled into the team's fourth line for Tuesday's contest, where he will line up with fellow forwards Mario Kempe and Jordan Martinook.

"A year and a half is like the longest five-game suspension in NHL history," Rinaldo said. "You can laugh about it, I laughed about it, but now it's not a laughing matter.

"I worked my (butt) off to be here and I'm going to stay here. I'm going to do whatever I can every day, every practice, and every game to stay here."

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Coyotes' Rinaldo returns for 1st NHL game in 20 months
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