COLOGNE – It is hard to imagine Peter Regin having an impact like his childhood idol Wayne Gretzky but those days are upon us now.
Regin worshipped Gretzky when he was growing up in Herning, Denmark. If you were to see his school pictures, you’d see Regin wearing a Los Angeles Kings cap, and the Kings were his most coveted hockey cards.
The thing is Regin didn’t have a homegrown star for his role model.
“I wanted to be like him. Gretzky was all we knew over there. We did not know anything else. I saw him on TV and collected hockey cards and that’s how I got to like him,’’ says Regin.
Gretzky is one of the greatest players to ever play the coolest game in ice. The Great One has been retired for a decade and he’s a video clip for the current generation of young hockey players in Denmark.
That’s where Regin comes in.
After a handful of years of playing in Europe, Regin took his game to the NHL and plays for the Ottawa Senators. He had 13 goals and 29 points in the regular season and found himself on Ottawa’s top line with Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson in the playoffs.
Regin is the undisputed leader for Denmark at the IIHF World Championship. German coach Uwe Krupp thinks he is one of the best players in the 16-team tournament.
Regin is now the role model for young kids in Denmark.
“He had a good year in Ottawa this year and great playoffs and now all the kids at home were watching the NHL and they want to be like him,” said Jesper Damgaard. “It is more fun when they have a Danish guy they can look up to rather than a Swede. It means a lot to Danish hockey and now we have guys in the NHL, all the TVs and newspapers are covering more hockey.”
“That is what we want and what we need,” said Kim Lykkeshov. “Now the kids in Denmark can dream about being him.”
Regin doesn’t crave the spotlight. He’s quiet and unassuming, but lethal when he is on the ice.
“It is an honour (being a role model),” he said. “When we grew up, we had no NHL players and nobody was coming (along in Denmark’s development stream) so we had no one to look up to.
“I am proud of coming from a small country and taking the long road to make it. I think it is pretty neat to come from a country with 15 rinks or whatever we have.”
Regin’s road to the NHL started in his hometown and it took him to Sweden’s Elitserien for a season. Along the way, the Senators made him a third-round pick in the 2004 NHL Draft.
He started the 2008-09 in the American Hockey League and made his NHL debut in January 2009, and wound up playing 11 games.
He survived the cuts at training camp last September and turned in his first full NHL season.
“Obviously the difficult thing about playing in the NHL is the speed of the game. That is the biggest difference between the AHL and the NHL. It is a physical game and the mental part was different,” he said. “You have to be ready every night and it is a challenge. In the AHL, you play Friday, Saturday and Sunday and you have 5 days to practice. In the NHL it is every second day and that was different.
“The mental part, to refocus all the time, was the toughest part. And even though it is the NHL and you are excited about every game, it is tough to play 82 games.”
The Senators made the Stanley Cup playoffs and their first-round opponent was Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins advanced, winning the best-of-seven series 4-2.
Regin said whatever fatigue he had after playing 75 games was gone as soon as the playoffs started.
“When you make the playoffs, you get re-energized and you play like it is the first game of the year. It was unbelievable. You are skating around. In the morning skate before the first playoff game, I had so much energy. It was like I had not been on the ice all year.”
When Ottawa was eliminated, Regin was on a plane for the World Championship, and he is a big reason why Denmark has been one of the best surprise teams in the tournament.
“We have a chance to beat every team and if we play to our best and we have a little luck we can beat every team. And if we do not play well, we can lose to every team.”
Fellow NHLer Frans Nielsen, who plays for the New York Islanders, is thrilled that Regin opted to represent his country.
“He is very important. He is a complete player. He is a smart player and a great hockey mind.”