Bob Probert (1965-2010)

Monday, July 05, 2010

Bob Probert (1965-2010)

The National Hockey League has had numerous tough guys and "enforcers" over the decades since I started following the sport in 1951 while living in the Detroit area.

There were only six teams in the NHL back then... really just two, the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadians... and the Wings were gifted with two, "Terrible Ted" Lindsey and the greatest of all, #9, Gordie Howe.

Both could battle with the best, but both were skilled players as well.

(But then describing #9 as "skilled" is like calling Jascha Heifetz a lively fiddler.)

In the '70s the post-expansion Philadelphia Flyers developed a style of play around marginal players like Dave Schultz, Bob Kelly, Ed Van Impe and André "Moose" Dupont that led to them being immortalized as the "Broad Street Bullies."

Their primary skills were in the area of intimid­ation, and their ability with their fists over-shadowed their skating abilities.

It was the NHL's era of the "goon," and while the Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups in the mid-'70s, it took the league several years to get the focus back on skating and scoring and away from punch-ups and mayhem.

In the late '70s and throughout the '80s and '90s, came a throw-back to the Ted Lindsey-type: the hockey player who could skate, score and punch an opponent's eye closed.

Locally, the four-time Stanley Cup Champion Long Islanders had left-winger Clark Gilles, and the Boston Bruins had Terry Reilly... but the player who best exemplified this multi-facet was the Red Wings Bob Probert.

While fans of other teams hated him, few ever mistook him for a "goon." He could skate, and score, pass and play defense... and leave an opponent's teeth on the ice if some enforcing was required.

Selected by Detroit as the 4th pick in the third round (46th overall) in 1983's NHL Entry Draft (which also produced all-time Red Wings Captain Steve Yzerman), Probert showed his talent early on, being named to the 1987–88 NHL All-Star Game.

With his skills, though, came unfathomable demons... two seasons later he was arrested at the crossing between Detroit and his native Windsor with enough cocaine in his possession to warrant Federal prison followed by a stint in a halfway house.

In Michigan Summer 1994, Probert crashed his motorcycle into a car. His injuries were minor but his blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit... and there were also trace amounts of cocaine in his system.

Four days later the Red Wings tossed in the towel as the team's senior vice-president Jim Devellano announced that Probert would not be offered a new contract:

"This is the end. [In] my 12 years with the organization ... we've never spent more time on one player and his problems than we have on Probert."

He was able to hook on with also-ran Chicago, however, and played his final seven seasons with them before retiring following the 2001-2002 season.

In 16 seasons with the Red Wings and Black­hawks, Probert scored 163 goals and 384 points, and amassed 3300 minute in penalties, fifth highest total in NHL history.

He may have been called a great many things over the years, but never a "goon."

Probert developed chest pains while boating with his family on Lake St. Clair this afternoon, and was rushed to Windsor Regional Medical Center where he could not be revived.

He had turned 45 a month ago today.


1. Hampton West said...

Wow! He was a tough player with an edge but you're right, he was never a goon. Only 45 years old.

Email address is not published
Remember Me

Write the characters in the image above