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Robyn Regehr: Calgary Flames Strongman

“Be prepared to enter a world of pain,” wrote sports columnist George Johnson concerning what happens to players who venture down Robyn Regehr’s side of the ice. The seven-year veteran of the Calgary Flames hockey team has a well-earned reputation for being one of the strongest and most punishing defenceman in the game.

But he’s also a poster boy for the Western prairies kid done good: humble, easy-going and polite, with a down-home sincerity and the kind of clean-cut good looks that figure prominently in CBC Mountie dramas.

The 26-year-old Regehr was born in Recife, Brazil; both his parents were missionaries and he spent his early years abroad in South America and Indonesia. But by the time he was old enough to lace on skates, the family had settled in the wind-swept, plains town of Rosthern, Saskatchewan, a small community of 1,500—the kind you’ll find all across the prairies, with a main street, corner gas station and grain silos on the horizon. It’s the kind of town that has two seasons: farming and hockey.

Growing up, he acquired both the easy friendliness of western rural life, as well as the discipline and quiet resolve that it takes to be a winner. He had a successful junior career with the Kamloops Blazers, and won silver with the Canadian Junior Team at the 1999 World Championships. Later, he survived and recovered from a horrible car accident which broke both his legs the summer before he was to vie for an NHL berth with the Flames.

Nowadays, he’s a rising star in the National Hockey League and some feel he’s poised to have the kind of year that’ll win him the Norris Trophy for the League’s best defenceman.

Though Saskatchewan is in his heart, Regehr enjoys calling Calgary his home. We chat with Regehr about hockey, Calgary and some of his favourite things.

AM: Let’s start with your background. Where did you grow up?
RR: I have a very interesting background, I guess. My parents were missionaries, and our family spent some time in Brazil and Indonesia. I was born originally in Brazil, and went to Indonesia for four years. After that, we settled in Saskatchewan.

AM: What was it like growing up there?
RR: In Saskatchewan? [laughs] Cold. But it’s a good place, the people are very good. I think you find that throughout Western Canada—the people are very friendly. And if I hadn’t lived in Saskatchewan with those long and bitter winters, who knows, maybe I wouldn’t be a hockey player right now.

AM: How did you get involved in hockey?
RR: My dad took myself and my younger brother onto the ice one day, laced on skates and introduced us to the game. Then we enrolled in minor hockey in Rosthern where we grew up.

AM: What do you like about Calgary as a hockey city?
RR: I really enjoy the enthusiasm of our fans. I’ve seen that in both ways. When I first got to Calgary, our team wasn’t very strong and you had a lot of negativity around the team. But now, we’re strong, and it’s a totally different atmosphere. They’ve really got into supporting the team—not just at the Saddledome but you see in downtown Calgary on game days during the playoffs, you’re allowed to wear Flames jerseys to work. It’s nice to see things like that—and kids walking to school with their Flames jerseys on. It makes you feel really good as a player.

AM: How do feel about living in Calgary?
RR: I love the location. My family can drive in from Saskatchewan and watch hockey games; it’s not too far for them. Plus, I really enjoy the outdoors and having the mountains so close to the city with beautiful places like Canmore and Banff nearby.

AM: Let’s talk about some of your favourite things in town. Where do you like to go eat?
RR: My favourite restaurant is in Kensington; it’s called Osteria. They have a really good caprese salad: tomato, bocconcini cheese, salad with balsamic vinegar on it. It’s really good. I get hungry just talking about it.[chuckles] Also, the best place I’ve had breakfast is the River Café in the springtime on Prince’s Island. It was very good time because they open up all the windows and you have the park too. The only thing is, I had to order two omelettes because I eat quite a bit. [laughs]

AM: Where do you like to go if you’re hanging out with the guys?
RR: There’s the Yardhouse in Kensington; it’s a lot of fun if you want to sit down, relax and hang out. Also, myself and a lot of the guys here enjoy going to movies.

AM: Have you checked out many of the city’s attractions since moving here?
RR: The one thing I haven’t done, and I know this is terrible, but I actually haven’t been up to the top of the Calgary Tower yet. That’s something I want to go do. I’ve been to the Zoo, and I really enjoy going to concerts, too. I enjoy live music.

AM: Where do you go?
RR: I like rock music, so I like going down to the Back Alley on Macleod Trail. They’ve had some great concerts there—Buck Cherry, Bret Michaels, lead singer of Poison came in last year—it was a great show.

AM: What do you like to do on a free Saturday afternoon?
RR: I have a pair of rollerblades at home and there’s great trails down by the Bow river, so I like to head out there.

AM: What if anything is missing from Calgary?
RR: Consistent weather [laughs]. I’ve never been a part of a snowstorm that dropped three feet of heavy, wet snow in May till I came here.

AM: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about Calgary?
RR: I think a lot of people when they think about Calgary think about a cowboy or a maybe a bit of a redneck mentality. That’s prevalent, but not so much anymore, with the economy and things moving with such speed. It’s a very progressive, exciting community. So that image doesn’t fit anymore.

AM: Back to hockey. You came so close in 04 and last year seemed promising, but you fell short—
RR: Very disappointing.

AM: What do you think it’ll take to win the Cup this year?
RR: Last year going into the playoffs we were a favourite, and a lot of us weren’t used to that. The run in 2004, we were always underdogs and there was zero pressure on us and we just played. I think both those experiences will help us this year, and we have to make sure we’ve learned from them.

AM: Do you mind talking about your accident? [In 1999, Regehr was a passenger in a car that was hit head on by a car which had crossed over into their lane. Both his tibias were broken, requiring surgery to repair and extensive rehabilitation]
RR: No, no, that’s fine.

AM: Did you think that maybe your career was over?
RR: I never thought like that whatsoever. I know that might seem awkward, but really I didn’t think about hockey for the longest part of my life. My main concern was the people, that everyone was okay. After that, I started thinking to myself: what do I need to do in order to get back? Then there was so much for me to do, and I was so focused on that, I never had any doubt that I was going to be back.

AM: What has enabled you to be successful?
RR: First and foremost, there’s a lot of luck involved with being in the right situation and having the opportunity to play. Next, it’s a lot of work. You have to sacrifice things, like giving up events that your friends are going to and moving away from home at a very young age. You also have to have good coaches along the way. When I look back on it, it’s amazing how many pieces had to fall into place in order for me to be on an NHL team.

AM: What’s your favourite moment on Calgary ice?
RR: A highlight would be my first home playoff game: game three against the Vancouver Canucks. That was the first time we had playoff hockey in Calgary in seven years and it was phenomenal. The fans cheered non-stop through the whole warm-up. It was really, really cool.

AM: If you weren’t a hockey player, what would you be doing?
RR: Well, I’d probably be a farmer.

AM: Really?
RR: Yeah, I’d be a farmer in Saskatchewan. Or sports psychology is something that I’ve always found very interesting.

AM: Post career thoughts?
RR: I don’t know what’s going to happen with family or anything like that, which is huge, but I would like to be involved in some kind of mission work like my parents were, whether it’s having the opportunity to go into some disaster zone and build houses, something like that. I also really like the farming lifestyle—my first job ever was working on a farm, and I actually still help the fellow out whenever I can—go out there and help him combine, drive truck and do all that. It’s just a lot of fun to do that.

AM: What do you like about it?
RR: I like being out in the country. Everyone’s excited to get the crops off the fields, and you can see all the hard work is paying off.

AM: It’s widely regarded that you’re a rising star in the NHL. How does that make you feel?
RR: I really don’t think a whole lot about it. Some days, when you’re reflecting on it, you think you’re really fortunate to be in this situation and I want to do as much as I can to take advantage of that. But I know we want to bring a Stanley Cup to the city of Calgary—that’s my number one goal.

THE REGEHR FILE

What he drives:
Honda Pilot

Book on his nightstand:
Key to Rebecca by Ken Follett

CD in his stereo:
All the Right Reasons by Nickelback

Favourite movie:
A tie between The Usual Suspects and The Shawshank Redemption

Career Highlight:
“Winning the World Cup in 2004 with Team Canada.”

Players he grew up admiring:
Chris Chelios and Larry Robinson

Who he hates playing against:
Jarkko Ruutu; “He used to be with [division rival] Vancouver but I think he got traded out east—that’ll be nice.”—Andrew Mah

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