Perseverance, patience and passion pays off
Three years and five teams into his Junior A career, Nic Renyard is the RBC CJHL National Player of the Year
There are journeyman hockey players and then there’s Nic Renyard.
The 20-year-old goaltender from Victoria, B.C., is this year’s recipient of the RBC CJHL National Player of the Year award, following in the footsteps of past winners like Joe Colborne, Kyle Turris, Dany Heatley, Mike Comrie and Paul Kariya.
With this being Renyard’s final year of junior eligibility, you’d assume the award was the culmination of a hearty career filled with many more peaks than valleys.
Renyard has earned every opportunity he’s had, and even then sometimes things didn’t work out.
It didn’t begin that way. From 2009 to 2012, Renyard started 70 games for the South Island Thunderbirds of the B.C. Major Midget League. For some reason BCHL teams didn’t exactly come calling the following season as three teams (Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Langley Rivermen and Penticton Vees) gave Renyard a combined two starts.
Frustrating doesn’t even begin to describe it.
Renyard wasn’t deterred; he knew opportunity would knock if he kept working.
The Vees gave Renyard a shot the following season and he went 8-6-0, with a shutout, in 20 starts. It was definitely a year to build on, he thought, until it wasn’t.
“I felt very comfortable there, until my exit interview basically,” said Renyard. “I felt great about the team and everything, then all of the sudden they pulled the trigger on a trade. I thought I’d be in Penticton for a few years, but that didn’t work out.”
Back to the drawing board.
Up next was Victoria as Renyard took his talents to his hometown Grizzlies. He went 8-5-0 in 15 games and again felt good about his season going into the summer. Training like never before, Renyard was unwavering in his goal of being the Grizzlies starter the following year.
Again, it was not meant to be.
“I thought I’d play the rest of my junior career in Victoria for sure, but they thought otherwise.
“The opportunity and the timing wasn’t right in certain places for certain reasons, but it definitely made me who I am and it helped me become the goalie that I was this year.”
Renyard was the odd-man out in Victoria and was released days before the start of the 2014-15 season, leaving him without a team.
That might have been the breaking point for some, but Renyard took it in stride. It’s a good thing he did, because the move was a blessing in disguise.
Victoria assistant coach Scott Hawthorn contacted Bobby Fox, assistant coach and assistant general manager with the Okotoks Oilers of the AJHL, who just happened to be looking for a goaltender.
Was this the opportunity Renyard had been waiting for?
“As soon as I got there, I knew it was a perfect fit,” he said.
In his first game with the Oilers, during the AJHL Showcase nonetheless, Renyard made 23 saves in a 4-3 win over the Fort McMurray Oil Barons to halt a six-game Okotoks losing streak. And Renyard hadn’t even practiced with the team yet.
“Everything rolled from there,” said Renyard, who went 13 games (12-0-1) without a regulation loss to start the season. “It’s a really awesome group of guys, the coaches had confidence in me and they gave me an opportunity to play, which is all I needed. I’m really lucky.”
Renyard went 30-8-3 for the Oilers and was named AJHL MVP and Top Goaltender; he led the league in wins and save percentage and set Okotoks franchise records for most shutouts and set the single season record for lowest goals against average.
He also took home the CJHL Top Goaltender award, given the nation’s top netminder.
Apparently good things do come to those who wait.
From a goaltender without a team to the RBC CJHL National Player of the Year, it’s a good thing Renyard doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit.
“Absolutely not, I never considered quitting, not even for a second. I was going to find a way – there’s no way I was giving up.”
That fighting spirit is what made Okotoks head coach James Poole turn to Renyard.
“We took a chance on Nic and made room to give him an opportunity to take over the #1 job in Okotoks – the rest is history,” Poole wrote in a letter of reference for Renyard for the national award.
Okotoks wasn’t the most skilled team in the AJHL, admitted Poole, but with their goaltending cemented, there was no stopping them.
“We did the best we could with what we had due to a very good group of character kids, but Nic was the main reason why this team overachieved during the regular season. I’ve been coaching in the AJHL for five seasons and I’ve never seen a player have more of a positive impact on his team.”
What’s on the horizon for honour student Renyard is equally as big.
His next challenge: becoming the starting goaltender for the University of Massachusetts Amherst; he accepted a scholarship – the maximum academic scholarship available based on his grades – with the Minutemen in mid-December.
“I’ll go in and try to make the most of it. Their starting goalie is moving on (aged out), so I get an opportunity to play some games. They’re going to give me a chance; if I work hard enough this summer, I have a chance at being the starter.”
A chance is all he’s asking for.