Mikael Renberg

No doubt history will remember Mikael Renberg as a trivia question. And that's unfortunate, because he was so much more.

Who played with Eric Lindros and John Leclair on Philadelphia's Legion of Doom line, the question will ask. But Renberg was far more than just a tag-along with the two more celebrated stars.

At 6'2" and 215lbs, Renberg was the smallest member of gigantic line. Born in the small northern town of Pitea, he certainly wasn't the stereotypical Swedish player. He may not have been as noted of a physical player as the other two, but in reality he possessed great upper body strength and a surprising nasty streak.

Renberg grew up idolizing shifty, pint-sized dynamo Mats Naslund, but he was anything but. He was not a great skater, though he had incredible balance on his skates. His long stride combined with uncanny anticipation skills always kept him in good position.

Because of his great anticipation skills, defensive responsibilities of the line fell to Renberg. This explains why Renberg's scoring statistics and recognition trail that of his linemates, but in no way was he any less important to the team's success. Far from it, actually. Without such a dedicated team player willing to sacrifice personal achievement for the betterment of the team, the Flyers top line would have been doomed.

Renberg didn't hang on to the puck very long when he did get it. Always a shooter first, he worked hard on releasing shots quickly. Many of his goals came from crashing the net and shoveling loose pucks and rebounds. But he also had a patented play on the power play where he'd come in on his off wing and snap a strong shot off of his back foot.

Renberg could be well compared to Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom. Neither were flashy hockey stars, just solid on ice citizens with a desire and work ethic that was second to none. The two were childhood friends and grew up together both off and on the ice. Holmstrom's father was one of their earliest mentors. Renberg's father was a great sportsman himself, a former professional soccer goalie now providing for his family by operating a gas station and garage.

Renberg's desire got him into the Swedish Elite League and on to the Swedish national junior team. Playing on a line with Michael Nylander, Renberg had six goals and 10 points for silver medalist Sweden at the 1992 World Junior Championships. Renberg also earned a tournament all-star selection.

The Philadelphia Flyers had discovered Renberg back in 1990, and invested their 2nd round pick on him. After refusing a contract offer for the 1992-93 season, Renberg crossed the Atlantic for the 1993-94 season after helping Tre Kroner earn a silver medal at the 1993 world championships.

The right winger's NHL debut was impressive to say the least. Named as a All-Rookie Team forward, Renberg scored a team rookie record 82 points. He also paced all rookies with 38 goals.

In the lock-out shortened 1994-95 season, the right winger led the Flyers to the Atlantic Division title and a playoff berth for the first time in six years. Renberg recorded 57 points in 47 games and led the Flyers with eight game-winning goals. In the playoffs, Mikael scored 13 points in 15 games as the Flyers advanced to the Eastern Conference finals before eventually losing to the New Jersey Devils. At year's end, he won the Viking Award as the top Swedish player in the NHL.

Unfortunately injuries would alter "Micke's" career path. He struggled through training camp 1995 with severe abdominal discomfort. It turned out to be a hernia requiring surgery. He came back, and until New Year's Day performed really well. Then the abdominal pains returned. He kept trying to play through it, his play obviously struggling, until by the all star game he tore the abdominal muscle from the pelvic bone. Season over. He finished the season with 23 goals and 43 points in 51 games. All of his points were scored in the first half of the season, and gives you an idea of how good he was before the injury.

With Renberg watching the Flyers struggle throughout the post-season, the common sentiment, be it from players or coaches, was that the Flyers really missed Renberg.

Renberg returned to play 77 games in 1996-97, but was never quite the same player. He scored just 22 goals, with just 1 on the PP. He played through more nagging injuries, the most scary was a severe facial laceration. He also suffered an ankle injury known as "skate bite" that hindered him late in the season and through out the playoffs. The Flyers lost the Stanley Cup final to the Detroit Red Wings.

Losing the Cup was the last moment Renberg would experience as a Flyer. In the off season the Flyers would go after Tampa Bay's Chris Gratton, and gave up the injury riddled Renberg, fearing Renberg was finished.

Renberg was far from finished playing, but his best years were finished. He struggled in Tampa, in a two year return to Philadelphia, 10 games in Phoenix and three years in Toronto. His only high points came internationally, playing in the 1998 and 2002 Olympics, and earning a gold medal in the 1998 world championships.

Renberg's vagabond ways in the NHL were hardly uncommon, but never easy for anyone involved, but especially the player's family. All the packing and moving and the lonely life of a NHL wife led Renberg's wife to leave and go back to Sweden, taking their daughter with her. In 2004, Mikael Renberg left the millions of dollars of the National Hockey League to return home to Sweden to play hockey and be closer to his daughter.


Mattias 10:50 AM  

Nice read. Love your articles.

I might add that he is still going strong in Sweden. Last season he was 7th in the league with 50 points in 48 games and he has started this season with 12 points in 13 games.

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