A native of Zagreb, Croatia, right-winger Borna Rendulic (Rehn-dew-lich) signed with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent on May 19, 2014. Rendulic made his NHL debut on Dec. 11 against the Winnipeg Jets, and on Dec. 31 against the Philadelphia Flyers he not only scored his first-career goal, but also became the first-ever Croatian-born player to score a goal in the NHL.
ColoradoAvalanche.com recently sat down and talked to him.
Do you have any special pregame routines or a favorite pregame meal?
“Not really. Depends on how I feel. I change it every game. I always get ready mentally for the game, but off the ice sometimes I run, sometimes I ride the bike, sometimes I don’t do anything, I’m just sitting. Depends on how I feel. Chicken and pasta is usually what I eat.”
Growing up in Croatia, hockey was not the easiest thing to break into. What motivated you to pursue it?
“I was 7-years-old. I was in kindergarten, and I was playing soccer every week. I was pretty good at it and one coach asked me, ‘You want to come play hockey?’ I didn’t know what it was before he told me, and I said, ‘Yeah, why not?’ I came for the first practice, and everything started from there.”
Was that was first time you had heard of hockey? What did you think of it?
“I can’t really remember. I was a little kid, you know? I wanted to play all the sports. I was really talented at all the sports. I wanted to do everything, I was hyperactive. I can’t really remember what it was like when I was a kid. I just know I’ve been doing it for like 14 years, so it’s been pretty good I guess.”
Do you have any siblings? Did anyone in your family ever play hockey?
“I have two sisters, one is younger, one is older. No, my Dad was a soccer player when he was younger.”
What was the most challenging part about growing up in Croatia and wanting to play hockey?
“Money. My parents didn’t have a lot of money. Hockey equipment is really expensive and you can’t buy it anywhere in Croatia. We had to drive to hockey countries like Austria, Slovenia, Czech Republic, just to buy equipment. My parents had to sell all the cars and ask for money from some sponsors to get equipment for me so I could continue playing.”
What are some of the major cultural differences between European hockey and American hockey?
“When I was 16, I moved to Finland. It’s different hockey of course. There are bigger rinks. There’s a more skillful game. There’s not so much checking in the game and playing the body, so it’s a lot different. But when you watch the NHL all the time on the TV, you learn by watching it. You’ve got to get used to it. Everything is so much faster, you have no time. You’ve got to know what you are going to do with the puck before you even get it. It’s a lot different.”
While you were in Croatia, did you watch hockey on television or have any hockey idols?
“Oh yeah, I remember watching Wayne Gretzky, Joe Sakic, Mario Lemieux and those guys. I was always watching them. Mario Lemieux was my idol when I was growing up.”
Do you have a favorite American movie or TV show?
“My favorite movie is The Hangover. It’s so funny. TV shows: Two and Half Men, and Homeland. I watch a lot of movies and TV shows when I have nothing to do, and play video games like PlayStation, Xbox, everything.”
What is it like to be the first Croatian-born player to score a goal in the NHL?
“It’s a really good feeling. Hopefully I’m not the last Croatian who’s going to score, but it’s a great honor. In my age, I’m still a young player. I never thought I was going to be here this year. First, I thought ‘I’m going to come here; it’s going to take a while to get used to.’ Now I’ve gotten the chance, and in just four games I scored a goal.”
Alongside making history, how did it feel to get your first goal?
“I can’t describe it, just hands in the air. The moment was so cool. Twenty thousand people cheering, it was really unbelievable.”
What has been the most exciting part about playing in the NHL?
“The lifestyle, it’s so high life. Everything is so much different, you know? Nice hotels, nice planes, I’m not used to it. I’ve never seen this before, it’s like a five-star life. So that’s why in hockey, you’ve got to be 150 percent every practice, every game. You’ve got to work so hard to stay here and play here in this league.”