PHOENIX -- Doing all he could to hold back the tears, Tom Webster recalled seeing Mickey Renaud, who died suddenly yesterday, don his Calgary Flames sweater on draft day.
The Flames had just chosen the strapping youngster Webster had followed for a few years -- they shared the same hometown of Tecumseh, Ont., and had ties to the OHL's Windsor Spitfires -- and he came to the podium in Columbus' Nationwide Arena to meet the club's braintrust.
Webster, the Flames' eastern pro scout, was almost as thrilled as a father when Renaud was called in the fifth round of last summer's affair, and saw the reaction from the player.
"When he put on that Flaming C on draft day, he was pretty proud," Webster said yesterday. "We thought eventually he could come up and play for (the Flames) because of the character he had. He played with so much enthusiasm and determination.
"I watched him as under-aged kid, and what I really admired is they were a very poor team (but) he gave the effort every game. When you see that competitiveness and determination, you can't help but admire him.
"Myself, Tod (Button), Mike (Sands), all the (Flames) scouts, we felt he was going to be a guy that could be that big player you look for and hope for."
Renaud, 19, died yesterday morning of causes unknown, casting a pall throughout the hockey world and the Calgary organization.
"It's difficult to fathom," said Flames president Ken King. "Nineteen years old, a great, big kid, 6-ft-3., 225 lb. He had his whole career in front of him and then it's not.
"I think it reminds us all --and puts everything in perspective and everything we do -- we're so blessed and so fortunate to be around so many gifted young men, gifted young athletes and the league. To understand something like this, it's all about perspective."
The tragedy invoked a horrible memory for Flames head coach Mike Keenan, who was reminded of when he was the bench boss of the Philadelphia Flyers and star goaltender Pelle Lindbergh was killed in a car accident caused while driving under the influence.
"The pain that those people will go through, any time you deal with a tragedy, whether it's this close to you or from a distance, there's always devastation," Keenan said. "It's a tragic occasion and it's God's will. You have no idea why God would take a young man of that age, but it sure puts things in perspective.
"These are boys ... They'll need counselling and they'll need assistance to deal with the loss."
Renaud's death marks the second time a touted Flames prospect died. George Pelawa, the team's first-round pick in the 1986 draft, was killed in a car accident before starting his freshman year at the University of North Dakota.
Flames scouts believed Renaud had a future in the league.
"From a coaching point of view, I try to look at a player and what he can bring to a team, and his character and leadership are second to none," Webster said.
Added Button, the team's director of scouting: "He wasn't gifted in any one way but he was gifted as a complete package."