Brent Regner’s road to the NHL has been long, strange and difficult.
So, it should have come as no surprise to him that when the Florida Panthers finally called him up to the show, they did so in the middle of a monster snowstorm.
Regner’s various flights south were delayed and instead of arriving in Fort Lauderdale on Friday night to enjoy his first NHL morning skate on Saturday, he was stuck spending Friday in Philadelphia before landing Saturday afternoon.
“It was awesome, very special,’’ Regner said after making his NHL debut with the Panthers on Saturday night at the age of 26.
“It has been a long road for me to make an appearance in the NHL. It was great, a special moment. Mentally I had to stay prepared to do my best.”
A fifth-round pick by Columbus in 2008, the odds of Regner realizing his NHL dream were long. Few low draft picks are given the benefit of the doubt and truly have to earn their way up.
For Regner, fighting his way to the NHL meant plenty of minor league stops -- including a pair of games in the double-A ECHL.
Over the past seven years since a successful junior career with the Vancouver Giants, Regner has played for five different AHL teams including Syracuse, Peoria, Springfield, Chicago and Portland.
Regner’s promotion Friday was met with plenty of heartfelt messages from friends and teammates.
“So happy for my friend, teammate and captain,’’ Panthers’ minor league goalie Mike McKenna wrote on Twitter. “After 6.5 seasons grinding in the Iron League he gets 1st NHL game.’’
“Go get them Regner,” the Portland Pirates wrote. “Portland is proud of you.”
Even teams he formerly played for directed congratulatory tweets his way.
“Great news that Brent Regner,’’ wrote the AHL Chicago Wolves official site, “last year’s Wolves captain, gets to make his NHL debut tonight.”
Tom Rowe coached Regner in Portland before getting his own call-up to become the Panthers’ associate general manager.
Rowe said when it became apparent Erik Gudbranson wouldn’t be able to play Saturday, he and general manager Dale Tallon discussed “bringing the best guy up.”
They decided on Regner.
“He was an easy choice because he has been the most consistent guy down there,’’ Rowe said.
“We talked about his style and we know he’s a very intelligent player who will fit in with our guys here. Sometimes all you need is a chance. If the coaches trust and believe in him, who knows what can happen after that.”
As for Regner’s future in the NHL, well, the opportunity is here at least immediately.
Although Gudbranson was expected to travel to Detroit, it’s not known whether he will return Monday against the Wings.
Regner traveled with the team to Detroit and could get in his second game Monday.
“I have to make the most of my opportunity,’’ he said. “It’s tough we lost [Saturday], that’s never good. Hopefully we bounce back against Detroit. I’m here, I’m excited to be here.’’
Paired with Steven Kampfer, last year’s successful AHL callup, Regner didn’t look out of place although his time was limited.
“He looked solid to me,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “He looked pretty good.’’
▪ The Panthers are back in Detroit, facing a Red Wings team they are getting very familiar with.
Monday’s game at Joe Louis Arena is the second meeting between the teams in a span of three games. Florida won the past meeting 6-3 in Sunrise on Friday and are 2-0 against the Wings this season.
“You go to Detroit and know they have a good team, a skilled team,’’ Gallant said. “If you’re not ready to play there, it can get pretty ugly in a hurry.”
Added Sasha Barkov: “Every game is important but when you play a team twice in three games, it’s like playoff hockey. They know how we’re playing and we know how they are playing. It’s going to be a tough game.”
Monday: Panthers at Red Wings
When/where: 7:30 p.m.; Joe Louis Arena, Detroit.
TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640.
Series: Detroit leads 16-9-5.
Scouting report: The Panthers have won five of the past six against the Red Wings under coach, and former Wings’ forward, Gerard Gallant. Florida has won five straight at Joe Louis Arena including 2-1 in overtime here in December.