He made his Avalanche debut on Dec. 9, becoming the first Croatian-trained player to play in the NHL. The honor was one he earned thanks to an outstanding training camp and solid play with the Lake Erie Monsters of the AHL.
Rendulic saw time in three contests during his first recall with the Avs, tying Goran Bezina for the longest tenure of a Croatian-born player in the league. Rendulic played a smart game at both ends of the ice and used his speed to his advantage, something that head coach Patrick Roy took note of. Standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 200 pounds, the Zagreb native also brought a physical presence to his lines, hitting anything that touched the puck.
It wasn’t until his fourth contest, a 4-3 overtime win against the Flyers, that Rendulic left his mark in the annals of the NHL after he scored his first goal. The tally was the first ever from a Croatian-born player as Bezina finished his brief stint with the Phoenix Coyotes with no points.
Rendulic’s goal came from the high slot after he caught a beauty of a backhand pass from Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog and fired a one-timer through traffic to beat Flyers netminder Steve Mason.
“Coach put me on the line with Landy and [Ryan] O'Reilly, and they’re really good players. I just knew that [I had] to find the open spot and they [would] find me, and Landy found me,” said Rendulic after the game. “He gave me a great pass, and I just closed my eyes and I just wanted to put it on the net and it went in.”
Despite starting the game on the fourth line alongside Cody McLeod and Marc-Andre Cliche, Rendulic soon found himself skating on the top pairing with Landeskog and O’Reilly. The gambit paid off as his goal gave Colorado’s its first lead of the night with 5:43 left in the middle stanza.
“I wanted to give him more. I thought he had some good jump,” said Roy of No. 71. “It was a super play by Landy on that play and a great play by [Rendulic] as well, moving up in the slot area. He took a one-timer that… beat the goalie on the blocker side. I thought it was a great play by both of them.”
“It was great. His first NHL goal,” said O’Reilly. “He was just in a perfect spot there. A smart player, he works so hard and is physical, big. For him to get a goal like that, it’s definitely well deserved.”
According to O’Reilly, the transition to playing alongside the rookie—which came at the start of the second period—was easy thanks to Rendulic’s ability.
“You can tell he’s a smart player. You can put him anywhere and he can have success,” O’Reilly said. “Tonight, that was a huge goal for us to give us life.”
For Rendulic, the question of whether his first goal was a dream come true was an easy answer.
“Yeah, of course,” he said, teeming with exuberance. “A few years ago I didn’t even think [I was] going to be here and [was] going to be able to play and score goals in this league.
“A lot of hockey fans [in Croatia] are watching for sure. I’m pretty sure my parents are really proud. They gave me everything when I was younger and they wanted me to succeed, and I’m pretty sure they’re now really proud at home.”
A Comeback Effort
It’s the kind of thing that the Avs have become known for. The never-say-die squad from yesteryear made an appearance on Wednesday night, the last of 2014, when they overcame not one, but two deficits to secure a 4-3 victory in the last 30 seconds of the bonus frame of hockey.
A sluggish start and goal against were all the team needed to get going.
“We started pretty slow and then in the second and third period we got the game going. We put more pucks to the net,” said Rendulic. “It was great team effort, I think. So that’s why we won today.”
Jakub Voracek put the Flyers on the board in the middle of the first period, and it wasn’t until nearly the same point in the second that defenseman Nate Guenin managed to squeak a tipped shot from the point behind Mason.
Rendulic’s tally took the lead for Colorado, but Vincent Lecavalier tied the game with a point shot of his own through traffic early in the final frame. Philadelphia captain Claude Giroux followed suit less than eight minutes later when he wheeled into the Avalanche zone and beat Semyon Varlamov for the second Philly lead of the night.
Down but not out, the Avs found twine on the power play at 12:48 in the final frame, tying the game with a desperate fervor that fueled them through to the end. Jarome Iginla fired a one-timer from the bottom of the faceoff circle past Mason on the short side to equalize the match and eventually force overtime.
“I was pretty excited to see it go in, and fortunately it went over his glove,” Iginla said. “Both teams [are] in a very similar position. Both are desperate. We need to move up. In the third there, getting behind, being able to stick with it and find a way to score some goals as a team when it’s been a little tight lately for us, it’s big.”
“Usually we kind of shy away,” O’Reilly said of the team’s propensity for seeing one-goal games go against it. “We get away from things that we were doing well, but tonight we maintained those things, getting pucks deep, continuing to move our feet in the offensive zone and neutral zone, and that showed a resilience.”
With the clock ticking away in the final frame and the puck on the stick of the Flyers, rear guard Jan Hejda stepped up and made a series of blocked shots that ultimately led to the game-winning goal. His sacrifice for the squad paid off huge in the end, as the puck went the other way and into the net shortly thereafter.
“Guys are committed. We know the importance of the games and [Jan], that was awesome to see because they were pretty point-blank shots. I think he had three blocks that one shift,” said Iginla of the sequence. “That was huge, and it was nice to see Tyson and ‘Fact’ and [Alex Tanguay] go on right after that and score. It was a huge boost and that was a big part of it. [Jan] plays hard all the time and he lines up against their top players night in and night out and he’s a tough competitor.
“It’s a huge win and it feels good tonight,” Iginla said. “It’s a good way to end the year. Now we need to keep going.”
With the momentum swinging the other way, Barrie skated the puck around the zone before feeding O’Reilly for what seemed like the perfect backdoor play.
“There’s one thing to do on a 4-on-4; it’s get Tyson Barrie the puck. When he has that room and his ability with it, just control, he’s going to make plays,” said O’Reilly, who tallied the game-winner. “He made a great play to me and I gave it back to him and then he gave it back again to me. So I just tried to get it on net and got a nice bounce.
“It’s good ‘cause, over the season, we’ve been in a lot of situations like this being down a goal in the third and we’ve gotten away from the staples of our game or the things that we were doing well that night. And tonight, we were getting pucks deep a lot and we were making [things] tough on their ‘D’. If you look at this entire game, we didn’t quit doing that. We kept with that and we got a power play from it and buried on that. It’s just that resiliency that we constantly need to bring, and hopefully we can learn from that.”
A four-goal night with points coming from multiple areas is exactly what Roy was looking for from his team, which has struggled to find the net consistently so far this year.
“Some nights you need different players to score goals for your team, and tonight it was the key,” said Roy. “It’s a good win for us. We have five of our next six games at home. I thought it was important to start with a win. Hopefully that brings some confidence to our team.”
The Avalanche returns to action on Friday with a match against the visiting Edmonton Oilers.