Regardless of whether the Chicago Wolves season ends with a Calder Cup championship or something shy of that peak, Wolves defenseman Brent Regner and his fiancée, Jessica Kapach, know what they’re doing as soon as it concludes.
They’ll take a couple days to pack up their northwest suburban apartment. He’ll meet with the coaching staff and general manager Wendell Young to discuss his future. Then Brent and Jessica will climb into Regner’s black pickup truck and make the nearly 1,700-mile drive to Newbrook, Alberta, located about an hour northeast of Edmonton.
That’s where Regner’s family raises Black Angus cattle and grain on 5,000 acres of land known as the BN Ranch. It’s the place Brent has called home for all of his 24 years. It’s where he learned to ride a massive horse named Mac when he was 5. It’s where, as a 10-year-old weighing about 70 pounds, he led a 1,320-pound calf around the ring by himself at the 4-H Club’s show.
There’s nowhere else he’d rather enjoy his offseason break. Of course, what Regner calls a vacation is what anybody else would call hard work. Just as he’s done after his first four seasons as a professional hockey player, Brent will start helping his parents, Bernie and Nancy, his older brother, Todd, and his older sister, Tanya, on the farm as soon as he gets home.
“My dad always says when the season ends, ‘Ah, you’re probably tired. Why don’t you take a break?’ ” Brent said. “But you miss it. Coming from there to a big city and having neighbors right on your doorstep all the time…when I go home, you don’t have a neighbor for a mile. I love it. “
“It bugs me,” Bernie said. “But for him, it’s a new thing. It’s sort of like a holiday. He’s back to his mother’s cooking. He’s outdoors and it’s warm. Spring is probably the best time on the farm. It’s like a new life kind of deal. There are baby calves running around.”
A bunch of baby calves trotting after their mothers sounds picturesque, but it’s one of the most strenuous times to be a rancher. The calving season runs from late March to May. Until Brent gets home and joins the rotation, Bernie and Todd take turns waking up every three hours to canvass their land and make sure the calves enter the world safely.
“If it’s cold, we’ve got to be out there all the time,” Brent said. “People always go inside when it’s a blizzard; we go outside. In blizzards if a calf is born and it’s windy, he isn’t going to last long out there. We have shelters, but they’re not smart enough sometimes to go find the shelter.“
In addition to ensuring the calves have enough to eat and drink, the Regners tag them to make sure they’re linked to the proper mothers. It’s an interesting commentary on how emotions and business overlap on the farm that Brent vividly recalls the 1,320-pound calf being his favorite, but can’t remember what he nicknamed the calf. Yet at the same time, he recalls the calf’s mom wore the tag “No. 31 Red.”
“It was awesome growing up there,” Brent said. “You have so much freedom.”
But not so much free time, though the Regner boys (and Tanya) made sure to make the most of it. Tanya, the oldest, made it far as college hockey. She was the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s leading scorer in 2002-03. Todd and Brent would shovel off the frozen water holes on the ranch and play one-on-one during the winter. Those games might explain why Todd developed into a winger while Brent became a defenseman.
“We had some good little battles,” Brent said. “I’ve always looked up to my brother. He was the top player in the small towns and he went on to Junior A. He was a really good player, but he loves the farm.”
Similar to Tanya and Todd before him, Brent played at the small-town rinks in Newbrook and Thorhild before becoming good enough to play for teams in the “city.” What the Regners refer to as the city is Fort Saskatchewan, which boasts a population of 22,000.
“We’ve got to thank our parents,” Brent said. “A million times wouldn’t be enough to thank our parents. They drove us that hour to get to the practices. They were very committed and we were very lucky as children.”
“I’ve got to thank them,” said Bernie, who visited Chicago with Nancy in January. “Otherwise we’d just be at the farm instead of traveling to see them play. They were all sports-crazy. Brent had a lot of skill. Todd was good and would hit you. Tanya was probably the meanest of them all (laughs). But Brent has won lots of championships. He was always with the right teams all along, as far back as novice.”
During Brent’s first year playing away from home, his Vancouver Giants claimed the 2007 Memorial Cup. On the strength of his showing there, he was drafted by Columbus in the fifth round of the 2008 NHL Entry draft and started playing in the American Hockey League in 2009. Wolves general manager Wendell Young had his eye on Regner for years, but couldn’t get him on his side until working out a deal with Peoria with two weeks left in the 2012-13 season.
Regner closed out last year with 1 assist in 7 games for the Wolves, which didn’t begin to describe how Young evaluated his play. Perhaps a better barometer has come this season as Regner delivered 3 goals and 13 assists in the Wolves’ first 46 games. Perhaps more important, he was the team’s only player asked to be in the lineup for all 46 games.
“I just see a very, very consistent guy who flies under the radar,” Young said. “People don’t understand how good he has been. He’s been the most consistent player on our team all year. He’s low-key, a low-maintenance guy. A lot of guys from the farm are like that. They know what hard work is.”
And they don’t feel obliged to brag about it. It took some nudging before Regner admitted the work ethic he developed in Newbrook influences every minute he’s on the ice for the Wolves.
“On the farm, it’s work that needs to get done,” he said. “Dad is our boss, I guess, but we don’t really treat it like that. We just have to get this done. We’re family-run. When you’re a part of something…when you don’t work hard out there, you’re letting your guys down. I do base my game off that. You know what? Working hard is easier because you get the puck back more and quicker. You work really hard for 10 seconds and you’ll spend 30 seconds with the puck. It’s just that really fine line. But, yeah, I do pride myself on that. It’s definitely coming from the farm and my roots.”
When Regner’s playing days are through, he’d like to return to BN Ranch full-time. It helps that Jessica, whom he’ll marry on Aug. 9, grew up four miles down the road on her family’s farm and they share an appreciation for the lifestyle.
“I’d love to be on a farm somewhere in northern Alberta beside my family and have a family at that time,” Brent said. “You know, not be moving around. Set my hat down somewhere and that’s where I’m going to stay. My brother and I have had a plan for a long time to be partners in the farm and the industry.
“We’d love to do it. We’re really, really good friends. Hockey is my dream. But after this, farming is what I’d like do.”