Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Renberg

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INJURIES DERAILED RENBERG’S PATH TO STARDOM

In November, two-thirds of the Legion of Doom line will be inducted into the Philadelphia Flyers Hall of Fame as Eric Lindros and John LeClair take their place among the top players in franchise history. The third original member of the line, Mikael Renberg, will probably never earn the honor.

Renberg’s NHL career accomplishments — after a brilliant start in his first two-and-a-half seasons — fell significantly short of those of his two linemates.

However, that was not because he rode the coattails of Lindros and LeClair. People have short memories.

To steal a line, if it weren’t for bad luck, Renberg wouldn’t have had any at all during his career. All three members of the Legion of Doom eventually declined as players due to serious injuries. It just happened first to Renberg, and at the youngest age.

Over the course of his career, Renberg sustained a serious of major — in some cases, freakish — injuries, accidents and illnesses that would have affected any player. Part of the paradox of sports, especially hockey, is that players are expected to play all out and risk injury yet they’d better not miss too much time if and when they get hurt. They are expected to play through injuries if at all possible, never using it as an excuse even if they really shouldn’t be out there.

Renberg was a gamer, who played by that mantra. He had a pain tolerance threshold and competitive level similar to that of Kimmo Timonen’s and rarely even acknowledged injuries after the fact unless specifically pressed on the topic.

Prior to his series of injuries, Renberg produced at virtually the same rate regardless of whether he was playing on Lindros’ line or with other linemates. When Renberg set the Flyers’ rookie scoring record in 1993-94, he spent about half the season on left wing with Lindros and Mark Recchi as his linemates. The other half of the season was spent with a variety of different linemates, especially during the 19 games that Lindros missed due to injury. From a production standpoint, it made little difference.

Later, after LeClair joined the team and Renberg became the right winger on the top line, Renberg outproduced LeClair during stretches where other centers (primarily Rod Brind’Amour or Anatoli Semenov) played in an injured or penalized Lindros’ absence. That is, until midway through the 1995-96 season. Thereafter, Renberg was never quite the same player again.

Why did Renberg, who seemed to be such a fast-rising NHL star, get permanently derailed?

1995-96: Renberg undergoes pre-season hernia surgery and rushes back into the lineup for opening night. The injury recurs in December, more serious than before. The abdominal muscle tears completely away from the pubic bone. Renberg finally misses time but soldiers on to play down the stretch and the playoffs, going through a pre-game routine of being numbed from the waist down before each game. His production falls off significantly, and he never again has the same degree of explosive skating. After the season, he undergoes another round of surgery and misses the World Cup of Hockey.

1996-97: It takes Renberg half a season to regain a semblance of his accustomed form as he continues to recover from the abdominal tear. A minor groin pull in late October does not keep him out of the lineup but he does not play very well for several weeks.

As Renberg finally hits his stride with his hottest stretch of the regular season, a grisly accident happens on the ice. Early in the first period of a home game against Ottawa, Renberg gets accidentally kicked in the face by Randy Cunneyworth’s skate. The Swede is rushed to the hospital and receives over 200 stitches between his chin and upper lip. Two days later, he shows up for practice two days later anxious to return immediately to the lineup. The Flyers told him he wasn’t allowed on the ice yet.

During the playoffs, Renberg is very productive in series victories against Pittsburgh and Buffalo. However, he has been playing through a foot injury that gets increasingly worse and slows him down. He needs post-season surgery to remove multiple bone spurs. He continues to play but is moved down in the lineup by coach Terry Murray during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Rangers and Stanley Cup Finals against Detroit.

In the summer, Renberg undergoes foot surgery. In August, he is traded to Tampa Bay.

1997-98: Now a member of a terrible Lightning club, Renberg scores two goals in his Tampa Bay debut. Shortly thereafter, he sustains a broken hand that seemed to alter the mechanics of his follow-through upon his ahead-of-schedule return to the lineup.

1998-99: Suffers a broken thumb with still with Tampa Bay. Shortly after being reacquired by the Flyers, Renberg sustains a separated shoulder. In the next-to-last game of the regular season, Renberg suffers cracked ribs. He plays through it in the playoffs, not saying a word to the North American media after the series. It is not until he is back in Sweden that the rib injury is revealed.

June 2002: Now a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs, Renberg goes out boating in the northern Swedish archipelago with his father, former pro soccer player Bo Renberg. Mikael was trying to pull up the anchor of the 25-foot boat when he slipped and fell in the water. The propeller blade hits his right arm and slices through the muscle in his bicep.

Fortunately, the boat was in less than five feet of water and Renberg’s father and friends were able to rescue him and get medical help. The propeller did not sever any of the nerves in Renberg’s arm and doctors at the hospital were able to stop the bleeding. As a result, he did not sustain permanent damage. However, his summer training regimen was thrown off course.

Fall 2003: Still with the Maple Leafs, Renberg sustains a blister on his hand from tying his skate laces. He thinks nothing of it at the time but the blister becomes infected.

Renberg takes sick with a high fever and was hospitalized. Doctors ware able to treat the infection and bring down his fever. If these treatments were unsuccessful, the doctors may have had to amputate his hand in order to save his life.

January 2008: Back in Sweden and winding down his career with Skellefteå AIK, Renberg sustains a fractured jawbone in a game just before Christmas. That in and of itself is not all that unusual in hockey.

What makes this situation so strange is that Renberg apparently misunderstands his doctor’s instructions, and attempted to return to the lineup in a single week, with his only concession to the jaw injury and facial swelling being to don a full face shield.

Renberg even warms up with his team before a game, until the team captain is informed by the concerned team doctor that he is medically forbidden from being back on the ice so soon. He is told afterwards that he risked permanent damage by trying to return that quickly.

This lengthy list of major injuries is not even close to a complete one. However, these are the most major of the many injuries that steadily turned Renberg from one of the NHL’s rising stars into little more than an average player.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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