WINDSOR, Ont. - Mickey Renaud was making all the improvements necessary to become an NHL player.
As captain of the Ontario Hockey League's Windsor Spitfires, his leadership qualities were evident. He had the size, too, to make an impact at the highest level of the sport he loved to play.
On Monday, at age 19, Renaud collapsed at his home in nearby Tecumseh and was transported to Windsor Regional Hospital with no vital signs. Resuscitation attempts failed and he was pronounced dead around noon.
"This is the biggest tragedy in Spitfire history," said team vice-president and general manager Warren Rychel. "Words alone cannot describe our pain at this time."
Renaud was to have participated in the team's Family Day skate at Windsor Arena beginning at noon Monday. His teammates were called off the ice.
Tecumseh OPP are investigating the death. An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday morning.
The six-foot-three, 220-pound centre was the fourth pick, 143rd overall, by the Calgary Flames in the 2007 NHL entry draft. He showed solid development last season, when he scored 22 goals and amassed 54 points in 68 OHL games.
"It's just so sad when you see something like this happen," Flames pro scout Tom Webster, a former Spitfires coach who was close with Renaud, told The Canadian Press. "You feel so bad for his family and of course for his teammates. ...
"I've got so many mixed emotions, it's hard for everybody. For myself, it's almost like I end up losing a son. That's how close we were."
Webster praised Renaud's leadership, two-way play and tenacity, comparing him to Adam Graves. The NHL team believed Renaud had the skill to reach hockey's highest level.
"He was a guy that had a goal in mind and knew that a big part of it was his commitment to fitness," said Webster. "(He had) the willingness to put the time in regardless of a lot of distractions that may have come his way. ...
"He was going to give himself every chance possible to play (in the NHL)."
Mark Renaud, his father, played 142 NHL games with the Hartford Whalers and Buffalo Sabres from 1979-1984. His uncle, Chris Renaud, spent time in the New York Rangers organization while Webster coached there.
"When I see the character of this young man, you know (the apple) doesn't fall too far from the tree," said Webster.
Renaud, who wore No. 18, was in his third season with the Spitfires and had 21 goals and 41 points in 56 games this year. He was in the lineup when Windsor won 4-1 in Owen Sound on Sunday.
"He's our leader, he's our biggest healthiest kid. For something like this to suddenly happen, it's truly a tragedy. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mickey's family right now," Rychel told CKLW. "He's with his family having breakfast and something suddenly happens, it's shocking.
"It's tough right now, we have a lot of work to do to calm the storm here."
Jordan Nolan, the 18-year-old son of New York Islanders coach Ted Nolan, was one of several Windsor players who was shaken up. Ted Nolan skipped the first period of his team's 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks to comfort his son.
"He was my son's teammate and good friend," said Nolan. "It was tragic."
Renaud's death evoked memories of former Oshawa Generals player Bruce Melanson, who collapsed during a team practice and died from a rare heart condition in 1985 at age 18.
"The entire Ontario Hockey League family is mourning this tragic news," said OHL commissioner David Branch. "We extend our deepest condolences to Mickey's family, friends and teammates during this very difficult time."
Renaud excelled at penalty killing, finishing third in the league last season with six short-handed goals.
He attended camp with the Flames last year and was assigned back to the OHL club. He had progressed steadily after scoring only eight goals in his rookie season in the OHL. Renaud was Windsor's seventh pick, 127th overall, in the 2004 OHL draft.
"We thought eventually he could come up and play (in the NHL) for us because of the character he had," said Webster. "He played with so much enthusiasm and could do a lot of things well. ...
"That's the thing I really loved about him. He was durable, he played through some tough times, yet he played every game."
Windsor's next scheduled game is at home Thursday against the Plymouth Whalers. There was no immediate word on whether it will be postponed.
Renaud's play has been key for the Spitfires, who are 33-15-6-4 this season after going a dismal 18-43-2-5 year in 2006-07. The team boasts a handful of high-scoring stars but Renaud was unquestionably the team leader.
Webster closely monitored the team's home games and Renaud was widely expected to sign with Calgary and play for their American Hockey League team next season.
"They did everything they could to revive him," Rychel told CKLW. "I've never had anything like this happen to me, the kids are in shock right now, it's a mess here in the Spitfire family. We're just going to do the best we can."
Renaud is survived by parents Mark and Jane and siblings Remy and Penny. Funeral arrangements were pending.