Robyn Regehr lay in a grassy gully by the side of the highway,
looking up at the stars. He felt cold. The blankets, towels and
sweaters that his brother Dinho had piled on top of him couldn't
stop his shivering. The smell of oil and gasoline mingled with
the familiar scent blowing off the farmland around him. When
Robyn turned, he saw his mangled car illuminated by headlights
and the moon.
Now Dinho was kneeling beside Robyn, assuring him that things
would be O.K. Robyn's head ached, and pain shot through his
legs. When he reached down to touch his left knee, his hand came
back covered with blood. Robyn closed his eyes and trembled
until an ambulance arrived. "For days afterward, hockey was the
furthest thing from my mind," says Robyn, a highly regarded
19-year-old defenseman with the Calgary Flames. "I just wanted
the pain to stop."
Shortly before 11 p.m. on July 4, Robyn was driving to his
boyhood home in the Saskatchewan farm town of Rosthern. His car
was traveling about 55 mph when an oncoming car swung into his
lane without warning, and a head-on crash occurred. Robyn
suffered a head bruise and multiple fractures in his left leg and
a puncture wound in his right leg. Dinho, 21, who was in the
front passenger's seat of Robyn's car, and the two young women in
the backseat were briefly hospitalized with non-life-threatening
injuries. Two people in the other car, Paul Wolfe, 18, and Eric
Turenne, 20, were killed, while two other passengers, whose names
were not released by police, survived.
On Oct. 28, less than four months after the accident, which left
him with a web of purplish scars on the front of his shins and
vivid images in the back of his mind, Robyn made his NHL debut
against the Ottawa Senators. He played with two screws in his
left leg, and at 218 pounds (he's 6'3") he was 10 pounds under
his usual weight. He was also rusty, having played only five
organized games since May. Still, Flames coach Brian Sutter
called Regehr's 15-minute performance mistake-free. Says Calgary
captain Steve Smith, "He didn't seem nervous. I suppose when you
go through something like he did, you grow up pretty quickly."
Through Sunday he had appeared in three other games and was a
Regehr was picked 19th by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1998
entry draft, and he had so much potential that the Flames
insisted he be included in the trade that sent All-Star winger
Theo Fleury to Colorado last March. The Flames believe Regehr
will meet their high expectations because of what Sutter says is
his discipline and motivation. "He has always been that way,"
says Robyn's father, Ron. "To this day I'm amazed that he's where
he is. He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it."
Robyn came somewhat late to hockey. Between the ages of three and
seven he lived with his family on the island of Java in
Indonesia. Ron and Edith, Robyn's mother, belong to the Mennonite
Central Committee and were missionaries helping the Indonesian
government resettle the country's poorest migrants. When the
Regehrs returned to Rosthern, Robyn took up hockey. By the time
he was a teenager he had told Ron and Edith he would play the
At 15, Robyn traveled two hours each day after school to play for
a midget team in Prince Albert, and at the end of that season he
received a trophy as his club's best defenseman. From 1996-97
through 1998-99 he moved on to the Western Hockey League's
Kamloops Blazers, for whom he was a physical force. In his third
year in the WHL he had 32 points and 130 penalty minutes and was
named an all-star.
The summer of 1999 began like many for Regehr. He worked on a
Rosthern grain farm, driving a tractor and a combine. He knew he
would be invited to preseason camp with the Flames, and he worked
out diligently when he wasn't on the farm. By July he weighed 226
pounds and had only 9% body fat.
When darkness fell on July 4, Robyn and Dinho drove in Robyn's
carefully restored 1976 Chevy Nova SS to their uncle Dale's house
in Saskatoon to drop off a boat they had borrowed to go
waterskiing that afternoon. They had two friends with them,
Natalie Bishop, 19, and Stephanie Ratzlaff, 19, and Dale invited
all four in for hot chocolate. "Robyn called at about 10:30 and
said they were on their way home," says Edith. "At 11:30 the
phone rang. I knew something was wrong."
The call was from an acquaintance who had happened upon the
accident scene. Robyn was driving north on Highway 11, the major
route bisecting the wide plain north of Saskatoon. The road was
clear, and the four friends sang along to a Dixie Chicks CD.
Suddenly, bright lights were in Robyn's eyes. "They were so close
it seemed as if I could touch them with my fingertips," he says.
Robyn whipped the steering wheel to his right, but it was too
late. Accident investigators haven't determined what led Wolfe to
leave his lane or whether he'd been drinking.
Robyn was crumpled in the front seat, the steering wheel flush
against his ribs, his legs crushed. Dinho pulled him from the
car, and when Robyn got out he tried to stand. His legs gave way,
and he tumbled several feet into a gully off the shoulder of the
road. That night doctors at Royal University Hospital in
Saskatoon feared that Robyn would never play hockey again. He
underwent surgery in which two screws were inserted into his left
leg and the fracture in his right leg was set. After the
operation doctors were more optimistic that Regehr might resume
his career. However, they didn't expect him to skate before
Robyn spent nine days in the hospital, his roomed filled with
visitors. On July 14 Regehr left in a wheelchair. Almost
immediately he began to take baby steps with crutches. He had
lost 22 pounds, and his rehab was painful. He began riding a
stationary bike a few minutes at a time, and then, when doctors
gave him the O.K., he lifted light weights. "I did whatever
little things I could do," says Robyn. "I did it every day for as
long as I could."
He also attempted to repair his psyche. In late July he and Ron
went to see his demolished Chevy in the salvage lot. A tuft of
Robyn's hair was stuck to the windshield, and one of his sandals
was wedged under the brake pedal. Robyn stared at the car for
several minutes and then told his father he'd had enough.
On Sept. 2 Regehr drove to a rink near Rosthern and skated alone
for 10 minutes. He went to Calgary five days later and
participated in no-contact practice for 2 1/2 weeks. Just before
the Flames broke training camp on Sept. 29, they put Regehr on
injured reserve, and a couple of weeks later he was cleared to
play and sent to the Saint John Flames, Calgary's American Hockey
League affiliate. On Oct. 15 he made his minor league debut by
playing 24 minutes in a 4-4 tie against the Wilkes Barre/Scranton
Penguins. "I was exhausted," says Regehr. "All those years you
dream about the NHL, and then after what happened I was more
nervous before the game in St. John's than I was when I got to
the NHL two weeks later."
Each time Regehr goes home he travels Highway 11. At the point of
the accident two white wooden crosses stand by the side of the
road. They are adorned with flowers. The last time Regehr drove
past was in late September, and he didn't stop or look. He kept
his eyes straight ahead, direction Saskatoon, where he would
catch a plane to Calgary and join his hockey team.
COLOR PHOTO: TODD KOROL
"Hockey was the furthest thing from my mind," Regehr says. "I
just wanted the pain to stop."
The night of the accident doctors feared that Regehr would never
play hockey again.