As Los Angeles Kings defenceman Robyn Regehr hoisted hockey’s holy grail above his head on Friday, Garry Pochipinski remembered a 15-year-old Prince Albert Minto.
Pochipinski, now the chief scout for the Victoria Royals, coached Regehr and the 1995 Mintos after the team recruited the Brazil-born, Rosthern product from the bantam ranks.
“He was just a special player,” Pochipinski said of Regehr, while fishing with his grandson on Candle Lake. “His intelligence and commitment were his strong points. His personality was phenomenal.”
As a Minto, Regehr tallied 32 points and 157 penalty minutes in 59 games before he was sent up to the WHL to play for the Kamloops Blazers.
Putting up 69 points over three seasons in the WHL, Regehr was selected 19th overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft.
Just as his NHL career was beginning to take flight in 1999, Regehr was involved in a car accident that left him with injuries doctors feared would put an end to his hockey playing days.
While travelling towards Rosthern with his brother Dinho, Regehr’s Chevrolet collided head-on with another vehicle near Saskatoon.
Since that July 4 collision, Regehr went on to play 1,023 NHL games, scoring 186 points with the Kings, Calgary Flames and Buffalo Sabres.
Pochipinski said Regehr’s ability to bounce back from the accident speaks volumes about the 34-year-old d-man’s character.
“It was tough to see him in that condition,” Pochipinski recalled of visiting the former Minto in the hospital. “It was a phenomenal recovery for him to walk again let alone play.”
Even as a young and budding midget player with the Mintos, Regehr always had that competitive instinct, Pochipinski said.
“He was a ‘show me more coach’ type guy,” he said. “He wanted to receive all the information he could and learn the game. I think that stood well in his favour as he moved forward.”
Before claiming the Stanley Cup on Friday with a 3-2 double overtime win over the New York Rangers, Regehr played 11 seasons with the Flames, serving as an alternate captain throughout most of his tenure in Cow Town.
Regehr joined the Kings after being dealt by the Sabres at the 2013 NHL trade deadline.
“I was just happy for him,” Pochipinski said of watching a player he coached at the midget level hoist the cup. “He accomplished a goal that many players don’t even have the chance to come close to.”
Regehr wasn’t the only Minto alumni who made a splash during the 2014 NHL playoffs.
Earlier in the NHL post-season, Montreal Canadiens backstop Dustin Tokarski was thrust into the spotlight after all-star goaltender Carey Price went down with an injury in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on May 17.
In Game 2 on May 19. at the Bell Centre, Tokarski, who won the 2006 Telus Cup with the Mintos, got his first NHL playoff start and closed out the series for the Habs.
With Mintos shining in the NHL, Pochipinski agreed that there is just something special about that midget team from Prince Albert.
“The Mintos have been doing really well,” he said, noting the Mintos 2014 Telus Cup title. “I think it’s all about the commitment of the players and the coaching staff. The coaches they’ve had since I left have been phenomenal. It’s all about getting players that want to be players.”
As far as Regehr is concerned, Pochipinski said the defenceman always had it in him to succeed.
“It’s a matter of how committed they are, how hard they work,” he said. “He had the physical attributes, he was big, he was smart, he was skilled and he was committed.”