Croatian's Past Fuels FutureDec 20, 2016
It took more than practice for Comets' forward Borna Rendulic to reach Utica.
As the 24-year-old Croatian skates off AUD ice, after a 60 minute morning practice, sweat beads multiply rapidly; from hairline to chin. Showing no signs of exhaustion or need to catch his breath, Rendulic demonstrates the physical readiness for his first season in Utica as a Call of Duty soldier.
For the past nine years, beginning as a child, Rendulic has pursued his dream to play professional hockey. Having a starting line along the Adriatic Sea, it was anything but simple, if not unreasonable.
Unlike your typical hockey moms and dads who shuttle their children to early morning practices in their minivans and pay handsomely for the latest equipment, Rendulic's story is unique to most, particularly in the Utica area.
"Croatia is a poor country,” says Rendulic, who grew up in his country's capital of Zagreb. "My parents had to drive to Austria, Slovenia and the Czech Republic to get my hockey equipment".
Such equipment runs by mom and dad were easily four and five hours - one way. Should a stick be broken, back on the road headed the Rendulic family, across borders in search of replacements.
"Every year I'd get two or three sticks. That was it. To this day, I use my sticks until they are worn-down or break," Rendulic explains.
Aside from making equipment runs to foreign countries, the Rendulic family increased their sacrifices, to ensure their son could pursue his hockey dreams. They sold a couple cars and solicited hometown acquaintances for "sponsorship" monies, all going to Borna's dream.
"They (his parents) borrowed money from nice people to send me off to Finland. I paid back all those who helped me and I still send money home to my parents," said Rendulic.
By 15-years-old, Borna was on a plane to Finland, speaking only the little English he learned in school. Scared and heartbreakingly homesick, Rendulic wouldn't give in to his fears. "I knew if I wanted to play hockey, I couldn't go back. I was placed with a really nice family, and it worked out well for me," Rendulic said.
What began this love of hockey for a child in a very unlikely place on the globe can be traced back to Rendulic's time in kindergarten. He tells of having fun playing soccer and basketball, that is until he had his first pair of ice skates.
"Hockey wasn't very popular. I was pretty good at soccer, and I think I could have played further in my life. But, when I was 14, hockey was my thing."
From growing up with a Mario Lemieux poster prominently occupying a wall in his bedroom, Rendulic's dream to play hockey at its highest level was realized with the Colorado Avalanche.
14 NHL games in total with Colorado over the past two seasons remain a sidebar, in that Rendulic became the first-ever Croatian-born player in the league.
Written by Don Laible