Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Gone Too Soon

While I may be late with this article, my heartfelt wishes go out to the family, friends, and teammates of Mickey Renaud. Mickey Renaud was the captain of the OHL's Windsor Spitfires. Tragically, the 19 year-old collapsed at his home in Tecumseh, Ontario and passed away on Monday. The fifth-round pick for the Calgary Flames passed away far too early for this to be anything but tragic. Hockey Blog In Canada extends its deepest condolences to all whose lives had been blessed by Mickey Renaud. His life is not one that will be forgotten.

The 6'3", 220-pound Renaud, who was drafted 143rd overall by the Flames last season, had 41 points in 56 games with the Spitfires this season. He was a leader in the dressing room and on the ice, and his team was looking poised to make a run at a Memorial Cup berth. Instead, the Windsor Spitfires will spend the next week grieving the loss of a teammate, a friend, and a family member.

"When I think of Mickey, I look at that big goofy smile of his, every day looking to come to the rink, looking to make somebody's life a little bit better," Tom Webster said to the Canadian Press. Webster is a scout for the NHL's Calgary Flames, which drafted Renaud last year. "The hockey community is going to miss a very good person."

"His teachers loved him. His teammates loved him. His friends loved him," said Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel, fighting back tears. "My dad remembers when he used to peek his head over the skate shop to get his skates sharpened in this building. He was only just a little guy."

"He's our leader," Rychel added. "He's the biggest, healthiest kid. For something like this to suddenly happen is truly a tragedy."

"Words can't describe what Mickey meant to us as a coaching staff, as an ownership group and as a player amongst the rest of our players," head coach Bob Boughner said.

Clearly, the young man was as important to the community he played in as much as he was to the team he played for. Renaud was a popular player who would join others at various events around the community: reading to children at the public library or playing road hockey during the offseason. As a tribute, all OHL players will wear a #18 sticker on their helmets to commemorate Mickey Renaud's achievements and accomplishments. The Spitfires, in addition to the sticker, will have a special patch on their jerseys for their captain. All, however, will miss the young man.

"He's going to be missed dearly by all of us, and that's the suffering everybody is going through," Tom Webster said.

The Oshawa Generals received word on Monday about Renaud's passing as the news made its way throughout the country. The shock of losing such a young man with a bright future did not go unnoticed by their club.

"Whether they knew Mickey, or didn't, when it's a peer, it hits home," said Generals head coach Chris DePiero. "This was a player that has the same aspirations that a lot of ours have. I don't want to sound cliché like, but it's stuff like that where people sit back and really identify what is important in life."

However, word had already gotten to the Generals' dressing room where several players who knew Renaud got the news.

"Word had gotten out because Ryan Baldwin and Jonathan Sciacca had both played with Mickey in Windsor. Jonathan actually grew up with Mickey," explained DePiero. "When they got back into the room and checked their messages and stuff, people had been trying to get a hold of them to tell them."

Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter, the man who drafted Renaud last season, was clearly shaken by the loss of one of his players.

"Take the hockey out of it, all of us are parents... we all know how we'd feel about this," said Sutter, who was choked up to hear of Renaud's passing while the 19-year-old was sitting down to eat at his parent's house in Tecumseh, a suburb of Windsor, Ont.

"You come to these meetings and everybody's talking about who's going where, and it really puts things into perspective, talking about kids. My boy Brett roomed with Mickey at our rookie camp. Brett's only 20. You hang out at camp as kids and that's a bond that never goes away."

Sutter had plans to head to Dallas, but changed his plans to be in Windsor without hesitation. Sutter will be in Windsor to grieve with the Spitfires' family, and will undoubtedly attend Renaud's funeral on Friday.

"I first met Mickey at the draft last June and the thing that I noticed was his energy and how much he enjoyed everything that was going on. Then when he got onto the ice with us, he struck me as an old-school type guy. He was a balls-out, play hard against the other team's best players guy. To be captain at 18 in junior, tells you something about his character," said Sutter.

I never met Mickey Renaud, but I would have been honoured to have met him, even if just for a split second. It sounds like he was a great person to have as a friend, teammate, and family member, and from everything everyone has said, he sounds like he was a joy to be around.

Rest in peace, Mickey Renaud. Your time came far too soon. The frozen pond in heaven will always have room for you.

Along with the passing of Mickey Renaud came the loss of another hockey player, although not as young. Bill "The Beast" Juzda, a former NHL defenceman, passed away at the age of 87 at his home in Winnipeg today.

"The Beast" played for the New York Rangers and the Toronto Maple Leafs during his NHL career. The 5'9", 200-pound Juzda played 398 NHL games, collecting 14 goals and 54 assists while posting 398 PIMs. Juzda started his career in New York City, and, after playing five seasons with the Broadway Blueshirts, was traded to the Maple Leafs in an eight-player trade on April 26, 1948.

In Toronto, Juzda won his first Stanley Cup in 1948 with the Maple Leafs when they defeated the Red Wings in four straight games. The bruising defenceman threw his weight around like he owned Maple Leaf Gardens.

The Maple Leafs won another Stanley Cup, Juzda's second, in 1951 when Bill Barilko scored at 2:53 of overtime in Game Five to clinch the Stanley Cup. Juzda was on the ice during Barilko's goal, and was remembered for his series-long battle with Maurice "The Rocket" Richard. He will be especially remembered for a hipcheck on Maurice Richard that caused the Montreal star to flip head over heels, causing The Rocket's skates to hit the glass and shatter it.

Juzda spent the offseasons fulfilling another dream of his: he was a locomotive engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway. This job earned him another nickname in "The Honest Brakeman". Juzda was also enlisted as a pilot in 1941 for the Canadian Air Force, and fought in World War 2 briefly.

Rest in peace, Mr. Juzda. You certainly have led a full life, and deserve a peaceful rest. You also won't be forgotten.

That's all for today, folks. I have a couple of things I'm working on in the next couple of days, so I'll have those posted this week.

Until then, keep your sticks on the ice, and remember these two special players!

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