At 5’11”, 160 pounds, Luke Rendino of the Michigan Warriors is so skinny that you can see his ribs. In fact, when he was injured in a 2-1 win over the Topeka Roadrunners in this year’s NAHL Showcase tournament, you could see where he was hurting as he ran his fingers over his ribcage.
“I’m not afraid to throw my weight around,” he says after assuring me that he’s okay to do the interview. “I’m a small guy, but I’ll go into corners.”
Rendino may thrive in the open ice, where he can use his speed and deft stickhandling to navigate around defending players, but he’s true to his word:
He’s willing to go to the dirty areas to get the puck.
Unsurprisingly, he’s found that in the NAHL the players in the corner tend to be a little bit bigger than they were in the Tier III Northern Pacific Hockey League, where he spent two seasons with the Helena Bighorns in Helena, Mont.
“I’ve got to put on some weight,” he says, inhaling a deep breath that swells up his stomach and gives him a potbelly for a brief moment.
The Orange County native is SoCal through and through. He’s got more flow on top of his head than the Pacific Ocean and a beach bod that could land him in a Rip Curl ad.
“I’m just a normal California kid,” he says, “just going to the beach. I’m always out there.”
His hobbies are not limited to coastal activity, however. “Fishing, snowboarding. I like to do a lot of boating activities. I’m always out on the lakes and stuff like that, hanging out with friends.”
“You know how it is,” he says in reference to California. “It’s an hour drive to the mountains, an hour drive to the beach. You can do it all.”
He is far from the beach in Flint, MI where the Warriors are located, but remains close to lakes and ski areas. And despite the glaring social and cultural differences between his sunny hometown of Ladera Ranch and blue-collar Flint, the SoCal native seems to have adapted well to the Midwestern lifestyle.
“It’s a little slower,” he admits, “but it’s good for me to experience something else. Get a little taste of a different part of the country and understand that it doesn’t always have to be traffic and people everywhere and shopping centers.”
Thread Lake may only be 10 minutes from team headquarters, it’s a little bit of a drive to Mt. Holly, Pine Knob or Alpine Valley.
“Gas is a little cheaper,” he says, shrugging it off.
“Can’t cheer for any hometown teams,” he says. “My dad forces me to like any Chicago team.”
On the ice, he models his game after Danny Briere of the Philadelphia Flyers.
“He’s always getting his nose dirty,” he says, smiling, “not afraid to go into the corners, chirping a bit.”
Rendino is a beach-goer from the same city as rapper Warren G with roots in The City that Works and is living in the birthplace of General Motors. He’s trying to find that balance between Hollywood glamour and Midwestern grind.
“I’m learning about myself,” he says, “what kind of player I am, what kind of guy I am moving away from home.
“I just want to get better so I can move up to the next level and put on some weight.”
He takes a second to ponder those last few words.
“That’s my goal: put on 10 pounds.”
Follow Tom Schreier on Twitter via @tschreier3.