Defenseman Dan Renouf hopes to follow in the footsteps of Jimmy Howard and Gustav Nyquist into a job with the Detroit Red Wings.
Story and photo by Mark Newman
Deciding to leave college for the pros is not easy, and it was especially hard for Dan Renouf.
Choosing to forego his senior season at the University of Maine was a difficult decision for the Ontario-born defenseman, because getting an education was an important factor in choosing college over junior hockey.
He had always been a good student, and his parents – his father is an electrician for the City of Toronto, his mother a dietary aide – believed that a college education would prove invaluable in the long run.
Renouf had spent a year at the Hill Academy, one of the few prep schools in Ontario, where a high level of academic and athletic achievement helped condition his student-athletic mind to the rigors of college.
He spent the next two years strengthening his hockey skills with the Youngstown Phantoms in the United States Hockey League (USHL), which only bolstered his belief that college was the way to go.
Now he was thinking about leaving. As an undrafted prospect, he was free to sign with any NHL team of his choosing.
“I knew I had an opportunity to leave college, but it was tough,” Renouf said of his thought process this past spring. “Maine did not have a great season, and as a team, we hadn’t accomplished as much as I wanted.
“I took a whole week to decide if I was going back or leaving, and then another week to decide which team I was going to. Those two weeks involved a lot of stress and soul-searching, a lot of staring at the ceiling. In the end, I think I made the right choice for myself.”
Ultimately, he followed the lead of two other former Black Bear players, both of whom left school before their senior seasons. Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard left Maine in 2005 and forward Gustav Nyquist in 2011.
“When I was trying to decide, I got a call from Nyquist and I think it helped,” said Renouf, now age 22. “He had a lot of really good things to say about how the Red Wings treated him after playing in Maine. That connection really helped me in making my decision.”
His dream had always been to play pro hockey, and yet he needed to fulfill the promise to his parents that he would get an education. “I have about six more courses for my business management major, and I plan to get my degree in the next couple of years,” he said.
Renouf played six games with the Griffins at the end of last season, which gave him a taste of pro hockey.
“Playing those games helped ease my mind,” he said. “It gave me a good understanding of the game, and I think my style of play translates from college to the pros. Most importantly, it was an opportunity to get to know the guys.”
From the start, Renouf was impressed by the tightness of the Red Wings organization.
“Compared to my other choices, it seemed like a big family here,” he said. “Detroit really values their players, and they’ve had such success that I wanted to be a part of the organization.”
While Danny DeKeyser, a free agent signing out of Western Michigan University, was able to essentially jump from college to the Red Wings (he played in the 2013 Calder Cup Finals with the Griffins), Renouf realizes his path will more likely follow those of Howard and Nyquist, both of whom spent the better part of four seasons in Grand Rapids.
“I knew Detroit likes their players to develop through their system,” he said. “In fact, that was one of their selling points. They told me, ‘Don’t look at getting there quick. Look at getting there and staying there. Developing and making sure you’re ready for the jump is smarter than rushing into things.’ And I totally agree with that.”
Renouf had been the Black Bears’ top-scoring defenseman during his junior season. He received a ton of ice time as he quarterbacked a power play unit and played an important role as a penalty killer.
“Dan is a heck of a player. I think he has a chance to play for a long time in the NHL,” Maine coach Red Gendron told the Bangor Daily News last March. “He was a pretty good defensive defenseman early in his career, and he elevated his game as time went on.
“He worked to add elements to his game and improve the elements he was already good at. He really elevated the offensive part of his game. He added poise with the puck to his game this year.”
Renouf sometimes played up to 30 minutes for the Black Bears, operating as a steady force in Maine’s run-and-gun game.
“I think my style of play is better suited to the way we play here,” Renouf said, reflecting on his adjustment to Griffins hockey under head coach Todd Nelson. “Being more controlled will allow me to concentrate on my game and be defensively sound. My role now is more of a natural defenseman than a first unit power play guy.”
The 6-foot-3, 209-pound Renouf insists that he will continue to improve his play on both sides of the puck.
“I would say my strength is the mixture of my mobility and my size and how I use my size to defend,” he said. “I think puck movement is another strength, and I feel like I can contribute offensively. Being a two-way player is something I feel I can bring both to GR and Detroit.”
While his confidence grows, he knows he has a long way to go.
“Coming into my first year as a pro reminds me of my freshman year at Maine,” he said. “There’s a feeling-out stage because it’s a new environment and new level of play. In a way, I think the situation makes me improve more than if I wasn’t being challenged. I hope this year is no different from the others and that I can make a big jump this year.”
Looking back on his three years at Maine, Renouf can see that he made significant strides. “If you look at my play from my freshman year to my junior year, it’s like night and day,” he said. “I improved every aspect of my game both defensively and offensively. I’ve approached every single year as a way to get better.”
Renouf believes that if he continues to improve day after day in practice and night after night in game action, he will earn the trust of the Red Wings front office and, eventually, a spot in Detroit.
“There are going to be opportunities down the road,” he said. “It’s important that I develop so that I can be ready to take advantage of it.”