Robyn Regehr lay in a grassy gully by the side of the highway, looking up at the stars. He felt cold. The blankets, towels and sweaters that his brother Dinho had piled on top of him couldn't stop his shivering. The smell of oil and gasoline mingled with the familiar scent blowing off the farmland around him. When Robyn turned, he saw his mangled car illuminated by headlights and the moon.
Now Dinho was kneeling beside Robyn, assuring him that things would be O.K. Robyn's head ached, and pain shot through his legs. When he reached down to touch his left knee, his hand came back covered with blood. Robyn closed his eyes and trembled until an ambulance arrived. "For days afterward, hockey was the furthest thing from my mind," says Robyn, a highly regarded 19-year-old defenseman with the Calgary Flames. "I just wanted the pain to stop."
Shortly before 11 p.m. on July 4, Robyn was driving to his boyhood home in the Saskatchewan farm town of Rosthern. His car was traveling about 55 mph when an oncoming car swung into his lane without warning, and a head-on crash occurred. Robyn suffered a head bruise and multiple fractures in his left leg and a puncture wound in his right leg. Dinho, 21, who was in the front passenger's seat of Robyn's car, and the two young women in the backseat were briefly hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Two people in the other car, Paul Wolfe, 18, and Eric Turenne, 20, were killed, while two other passengers, whose names were not released by police, survived.
On Oct. 28, less than four months after the accident, which left him with a web of purplish scars on the front of his shins and vivid images in the back of his mind, Robyn made his NHL debut against the Ottawa Senators. He played with two screws in his left leg, and at 218 pounds (he's 6'3") he was 10 pounds under his usual weight. He was also rusty, having played only five organized games since May. Still, Flames coach Brian Sutter called Regehr's 15-minute performance mistake-free. Says Calgary captain Steve Smith, "He didn't seem nervous. I suppose when you go through something like he did, you grow up pretty quickly." Through Sunday he had appeared in three other games and was a respectable +1.
Regehr was picked 19th by the Colorado Avalanche in the 1998 entry draft, and he had so much potential that the Flames insisted he be included in the trade that sent All-Star winger Theo Fleury to Colorado last March. The Flames believe Regehr will meet their high expectations because of what Sutter says is his discipline and motivation. "He has always been that way," says Robyn's father, Ron. "To this day I'm amazed that he's where he is. He knew what he wanted to do, and he did it."
Robyn came somewhat late to hockey. Between the ages of three and seven he lived with his family on the island of Java in Indonesia. Ron and Edith, Robyn's mother, belong to the Mennonite Central Committee and were missionaries helping the Indonesian government resettle the country's poorest migrants. When the Regehrs returned to Rosthern, Robyn took up hockey. By the time he was a teenager he had told Ron and Edith he would play the sport professionally.
At 15, Robyn traveled two hours each day after school to play for a midget team in Prince Albert, and at the end of that season he received a trophy as his club's best defenseman. From 1996-97 through 1998-99 he moved on to the Western Hockey League's Kamloops Blazers, for whom he was a physical force. In his third year in the WHL he had 32 points and 130 penalty minutes and was named an all-star.
The summer of 1999 began like many for Regehr. He worked on a Rosthern grain farm, driving a tractor and a combine. He knew he would be invited to preseason camp with the Flames, and he worked out diligently when he wasn't on the farm. By July he weighed 226 pounds and had only 9% body fat.
When darkness fell on July 4, Robyn and Dinho drove in Robyn's carefully restored 1976 Chevy Nova SS to their uncle Dale's house in Saskatoon to drop off a boat they had borrowed to go waterskiing that afternoon. They had two friends with them, Natalie Bishop, 19, and Stephanie Ratzlaff, 19, and Dale invited all four in for hot chocolate. "Robyn called at about 10:30 and said they were on their way home," says Edith. "At 11:30 the phone rang. I knew something was wrong."
The call was from an acquaintance who had happened upon the accident scene. Robyn was driving north on Highway 11, the major route bisecting the wide plain north of Saskatoon. The road was clear, and the four friends sang along to a Dixie Chicks CD. Suddenly, bright lights were in Robyn's eyes. "They were so close it seemed as if I could touch them with my fingertips," he says. Robyn whipped the steering wheel to his right, but it was too late. Accident investigators haven't determined what led Wolfe to leave his lane or whether he'd been drinking.