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FLAMES EXTRA - REMEMBERING RENAUD

Flames prospect who passed away tragically touched all those that knew him and his legacy is still felt today

by AARON VICKERS @aavickers / calgaryflames.com

He was a captain.

A teammate.

A player.

A son.

Mickey Renaud was something different to each of those fortunate enough to be around him.

But he was beloved by all.

"He just had a huge personality," said Greg Nemisz, then a teammate of Mickey's for two seasons with the OHL's Windsor Spitfires.

"He was a really, really charismatic guy. It didn't matter who it was on our team back then or even his friends around town. Everyone wanted to be around him. He was always in a great mood and it seemed like everyone around him fed off that.

"He was really a guy who treated everyone the same way."

Beloved by those that coached him.  

"He was a guy that was very passionate about life in general," said Bob Jones, then an assistant coach with the Spitfires. "Obviously I knew him through hockey, but he brought a sense of passion to whatever he did. It didn't matter if it was going to the rink or hanging out with the guys.

"He was just a fun guy to be around because he made it fun."

Beloved by those that saw nothing but potential in him.

"I don't take that lightly, putting the 'C' on someone's jersey," said former Flame Bob Boughner, then the coach in Windsor.

"He exemplified the complete team player, No. 1.

"No. 2, his unselfishness … to spend his time around helping a teammate or whether it was, going to do a community event and spending time with some kids … being a local Windsor guy, everything revolved around him whether it was a team outing, he would bring it together or guys coming over to his place for dinner or needing a place to stay.

"He was really just that kind of a guy."

And, of course, beloved by those that raised him.

"He was a quality person and a character person," said Mark Renaud, Mickey's father.

"From the time he joined the Spitfires he was a pretty mature kid his whole life for his age, and one of the qualities that he always had, and this goes back to even before he played but it came out to more public light, was that he was certainly a leader. He always had lots of friends, but he was always the leader of his friends.

"He always took it upon himself to look after his friends. He always made sure that everybody was looked after and nobody was left behind, everybody was included.

"That's what Mick was about. He wasn't really too concerned about himself. He took it upon himself when he was the captain to be a leader and to look after the other players.

"That's one of the fond memories that I think our family still has about Mick."

Always remembered.

Never forgotten.

Saturday marked the ninth anniversary of Mickey's passing at just 19, a tragedy that shook the hockey world.

The Flames prospect, drafted in the fourth round in 2007, was home having breakfast with family and several teammates in Tecumseh, ON, a community east of Windsor, when he collapsed.

His coach will never forget that morning.

"It tore the heart right out of us … .my family, my kids, the community, and of course the team," recalled Boughner, who nine years later is now an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks. 

"I got the phone call that something was wrong and that Mickey basically collapsed at the table at his mom's house. I stood on the line and I listened to the call for at least 10, 15 minutes while the paramedics were there trying to revive him.

"Myself and (assistant coach) DJ Smith and Bob Jones drove right to the hospital to meet the ambulance. I saw his mom and little sister come out when the ambulance arrived. I think we all knew at that time it wasn't good.

"I'll never forget it … holding the mom and taking care of the little sister and the whole emotion of losing such an incredible person."

Jones won't, either.  

"We played in Owen Sound the night before," said Jones, now the head coach of the Oshawa Generals.

"We won a game and to be honest, Mickey scored a hat-trick. It was his first hat-trick in the OHL, I believe. He came to the front of the bus and asked when we got back if him and some of the older guys, because it was a Sunday, could they go out.  

"Of course we allow our older guys to do those things. But they had a promotion early the next morning. We said to make sure the guys knew they had this thing they had to do.

"One of the older guys called me and said, 'We stayed at Mickey's last night. We were having breakfast and Mickey collapsed and they can't wake him up.

"What do you mean they can't wake him up?

"You could hear the seriousness in his voice.  

"Me, Bob and DJ immediately went to the hospital and Mickey came in shortly thereafter. Our team doctor was there. It was tragic. You knew right away it was not good. The emotions are running wild, obviously. You don't know how you react to it, something like that, until it happens.

"It's complete shock. It's complete panic. You're living in that moment right there." 

So, too, was fellow Flames prospect Nemisz, then just 17.

"I remember a long team bus ride back to Windsor," started Nemisz, now an assistant with Jones' Oshawa Generals.  

"We were feeling really good about ourselves. The older guys on the team were getting together that night.  

"It was a Family Day skate with the fans. It was an all-day thing. There were different groups. Young guys were the first group, and then there were groups of five all day long for four hours or something like that. We had a group in the morning and we were dropping some guys off at Mickey's house because he was going to drive them to the rink. They were the second group after us. We dropped a couple guys off at Mickey's. (His mom) Jane was making breakfast for a bunch of the guys like she often did.

"And then we headed to the rink. On our way into the rink we ran into the coaches. They said that the skate was cancelled.

"Then we heard through word of mouth that Mickey had collapsed.

"We just hung around the rink there just talking amongst ourselves. We were a little bit unsure of what happened. Then everyone came in. Bob addressed the team.

"It was obviously really shocking and devastating.

"It's hard to describe the feeling. It was just shock and devastation."

An autopsy later revealed that Renaud suffered from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), a genetic condition that causes thickening of the heart muscle.

Twelve-hundred attended Mickey's memorial, his No. 18 jersey draped over his casket.

Renaud's teammates donned their Spitfires jerseys and lined the walkway as Renaud's casket passed.

Young hockey players tapped their sticks on the road to salute Mickey as the procession moved down the street.

Fifteen months later, the Spitfires were Memorial Cup champions.

Mickey's jersey was present once again, joining teammates in celebration on the ice, front and centre in the team's championship photo.

The jersey went everywhere and anywhere the Windsor group did.  

Mickey was there, too.

"It's not something that the team shied away from," Nemisz began.

"Everyone was so close to Mickey on that team and that year … Mickey was with us the whole way. We didn't back down from mentioning his name at any point.

"We had a candle in the dressing room.

"We still had his stall and his jersey in our dressing room at all times."

He was always there.

"Mickey wasn't far from us," Jones added.

"Ever.

"There was never a time that we felt that he wasn't with us.

"No one ever lost track of Mickey.

"We felt his presence."

And his emotion.

"It was (bittersweet)," Boughner began.

"We had his jersey with us the whole time. It was very inspirational for the guys.  

"I think one thing they all learned was we talked about taking things for granted and appreciating what we have in the game itself and what we do to make a living and all those kinds of things.

"I think it made hockey a secondary thing.

"Really, it made a lot of teenagers grow up really fast. A lot of these kids were never close to anybody like that that had passed away … especially one of their best friends.

"It brought us tighter as a group. We definitely played for a different purpose."

The purpose was clear.

But dealing with the heartache, at times, was certainly tough.

"It was difficult in a sense because it's just another reminder that he's not here," Mark said.

"But on the other hand, it was really great. No one was happier for the Spitfires and for all those kids, to see them win the Memorial Cup, than our family. We were thrilled for them, because it was a great accomplishment because they worked so hard to get to that point. They were an extremely talented group.

"We took some satisfaction from them winning as well in that we know Mickey played a role in that Memorial Cup. He was an inspiration to a lot of those kids to get to the Memorial Cup and to win.

"It was very heartwarming that he was remembered throughout the process … that they carried his jersey and made it a point to acknowledge when they won that Mickey's presence was a bit part of it.

"It was a little bit hard in remembering what had gone on, but on the other hand it was great because we were thrilled for the team.

"We know Mickey played a role in that."

He continues to.

In the minds of those he touched.

In the community that touched him.

 

The Spitfires continue to host a night in Mickey's honour, every year, on Feb. 18.

A run in his name and memory is held every summer in Windsor.

A captain's trophy is presented by the Ontario Hockey League each spring, awarded to "the OHL team captain that best exemplifies leadership on and off the ice, with a passion and dedication to the game of hockey and his community" as demonstrated by Mickey.

Far from forgotten.

And always celebrated.

For who he was, and what he did.  

Never for himself.

Always for others.

"He had an ability to include everybody," Boughner recounted.

"He wanted everybody to feel special. Whether he was having a good day or whether he was having a bad day, I think that he always wanted to be that guy to bring people together.

"I loved that about him. He was that kind of guy. He was a glue guy. As a coach that's gone on to coach many players at the NHL level and everywhere, junior … it's not easy to find guys like that that not only do you not have to worry about their work ethic, but how amazing they are off the ice."

Jones knows that as well as anyone.

"I was running the defence back then," he recalled.

"We had a couple older defencemen that played with Mickey the year before. I was leaning on them. One was Mark Cundari…the other was Harry Young. I wasn't happy with their performances and I was really pushing these guys hard.

"I remember Mickey coming into my office one day.

"'Hey man, you've got to lay off these guys.'

"I said, 'Mickey, it's my job.'

"Hey man, you're at the brink of breaking these two. It's my job to let you know you're being too hard on them.'

"I had the ultimate respect for that boy.

 "He never came into my office to complain about his ice time or what more he had to do. It was never about him. That's what separated him as a unique captain for me. His qualities were so unselfish. It was never once about him.

"He was always worried about his teammates."

 As any teammate would attest.

"I can remember the first day he picked up me, Adam Henrique and another guy," Nemisz remembered.

"We went down to Windsor a week or two early to get situated before camp started. We didn't really even know Mickey, but he picked us up.

"A song came on the radio … something Red Hot Chili Peppers I think … and he just blasted it, started singing at the top of his lungs.

"It was a good thing for us. It made us feel comfortable right away. Mickey was just trying to loosen us up before we met a couple of the older guys that were already in town, too.

"His personality is what really stuck out for me. He's an unbelievable person."

That's never been forgotten.

Neither has Mickey.

Never will, either.

"It's nice to hear he was highly thought of by his friends and peers and coaches," Mark said.

"I hate to take any real credit for that. That's very nice. But he was a really, for lack of a better term, he had a great deal of character certainly. It's nice to hear certainly, and much-appreciated to hear. It's a nice way to have him remembered.

"He was a quality, character person … that's for sure.

"It's nice to know that he made such an impression.

"To our family, that's very heartwarming. It's very nice to hear that people still remember him in that light that he did make that impression. As a parent it's a nice thing to hear … to know your son is remembered in such a nice light."

He was, indeed, beloved by all. 

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