EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The dream of making it to the NHL never wavered in Robyn Regehr's mind, even at its most dramatic point.
Like many teenage boys in Saskatchewan, Regehr began to visualize being one of the few who gets to play at the highest level of hockey. But that took a near-tragic turn when Regehr was involved in a car accident at 19 that left him with two broken legs.
"I never had a doubt [about playing] hockey again," Regehr said. "When I talked to doctors, they said it was close. I almost sliced my patella tendon. If I would have severed the patella, I probably never would have played any sport, let alone hockey again.
"I didn't really think about how long I was going to play. I just wanted a chance to play. After that, as a lot of guys say, it goes by fairly quickly."
Regehr will play in his 1,000th NHL game Saturday when the Los Angeles Kings host the Philadelphia Flyers. He will reach the milestone at 33 years old, in 14 seasons with the Kings, Buffalo Sabres and Calgary Flames.
Regehr was a prospect in Calgary's organization on the night of July 4, 1999. He was driving to the Saskatchewan town of Rosthern with his brother, Dinho, and two female passengers when a car veered into their lane and hit them head on. Regehr had multiple fractures in his left leg and a puncture wound in his right leg. Two people in the other car died.
Regehr had surgery to have two screws inserted in his left leg and was hospitalized for nine days. But he made his NHL debut that October, and that season became the youngest nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy.
"You've got to remember, a guy like Robyn Regehr, he wasn't supposed to play," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "He was a car accident injury away from hardly ever playing one game. So for him to get to this point is pretty significant."
Willie Mitchell, a veteran defenseman in Regehr's shutdown mold, has an appreciation for Regehr because Regehr plays such a rugged game built on hitting, blocking shots and killing penalties. Through Thursday, Regehr ranked sixth among NHL defensemen in hits (144) and was second to Mitchell on the Kings in blocked shots (68).
Regehr has played at least 75 games in nine regular seasons, and in 59 Stanley Cup Playoff games. The 19th pick in the 1998 NHL Draft (by the Colorado Avalanche) he has 31 goals, 149 assists and 917 penalty minutes.
"You look at guys and certain guys have hockey bodies, I call it," Mitchell said. "They're a little thicker in the torso. I think those guys tend to be the most durable guys. It's like [Anze Kopitar]. Look at him. It's not that he's terrific in shape or bulging muscles. He's just thick through the torso. I think Robyn has that style as well … guys that are like that are quite durable hockey players."
Regehr (6-foot-3, 222 pounds) had to evolve his game after rules changes following the 2004-05 lockout tilted the game toward offensive players. Sutter, who coached Regehr in Calgary after he was traded there on Feb. 28, 1999, has seen him make that transition to the faster game.
"Quite honest, there's not that many of them guys left in the game or coming into the game strictly because the rules affected that player so much," Sutter said. "So the guys that had the hockey IQ to adjust to the rules stayed in it. The guys that didn't are out. That's probably a testament [to him] more than anything. "
Regehr called his evolution from a 19-year-old to now "a constant learning experience, and the players that have an open mind to that are the ones that seem to adapt the best."
"You've think you've seen it all but you never have," Regehr said.
Regehr could see his hockey dream formulate long before the car accident. As a 16-year-old with the Kamloops Blazers of the Western Hockey League, he picked up a copy of The Hockey News and saw a list of top 10 prospects to watch.
"I was one of them," he said. "That was probably the most memorable time where it hit me and I was saying, 'You know what? I can do this. I have a really good chance of doing this for a career.' It still stands out in my mind."