Monday, 5 July 2010

A True Champion

You've probably heard the news by now, but 45 year-old Bob Probert has passed away. The long-time Detroit Red Wing and Chicago Blackhawk enforcer collapsed on a boat on Lake St. Clair after suffering from "severe chest pains" around 2pm this afternoon. By the time he arrived at the hospital, it was too late. Now, I never met Bob Probert during the course of my travels over the years, and his problems on and off the ice are well-documented. What I do know about him is limited to what I've read and what I've heard from various sources. However, I want to talk candidly about Bob Probert today, and bring to light some of the most positive things he has brought to the sport and the world through his actions.

Bob Probert is probably most well-known for his pugilistic skills on the ice. Probert was the reigning heavyweight champion of the NHL for the better part of three seasons, and represented half of the "Bruise Brothers" moniker with Detroit teammate Joey Kocur. His 3300 PIMs in 935 career NHL games has him ranked fifth all-time in terms of the most-penalized players in NHL history.

He had a lengthy battle with Tie Domi over the course of several seasons where both players claimed the heavyweight crown, battled with Vancouver's Craig Coxe in a couple of memorable bouts, and introduced the world to Link Gaetz with their memorable wars.

However, I respected Bob Probert for winning the biggest battle in his life: the battle with alcohol and drugs.

It was well-known that Bob Probert's career was derailed by alcohol and drugs, and his March 1989 arrest for trying to bring cocaine across the Windsor-Detroit border was one of the lowest points in his battle with his demons. He didn't escape prosecution, and his actions brought him a three-month stay in a US prison. The NHL suspended him indefinitely, and his reputation took a major blow in both the public's eyes and around NHL boardrooms.

The Detroit Red Wings, under the watchful eyes of Jimmy Devellano and Colin Campbell, brought Probert back into the Red Wings family, and he was given a choice: clean up or get out. Probert opted to stay, but was limited to games in the United States as his criminal record prevented him from crossing the border into Canada.

Elliotte Friedman of CBC's Hockey Night In Canada recorded a phenomenal segment about Probert's battles with drugs and alcohol on his "Inside Hockey" segment, and it's an absolutely excellent piece. View that link in Internet Explorer, though. I couldn't get it to work in Firefox.

Bob Probert's skills were not limited to just fighting, though. His 29 goals during the 1987-88 season earned him his only All-Star Game appearance, and the big forward didn't waste the opportunity. Probert assisted on Wayne Gretzky's first period goal in the 1988 All-Star Game in St. Louis, earning his only All-Star Game point. In the 1988 postseason, Probert led the Red Wings in scoring in his sixteen playoff games, scoring eight goals and adding 13 assists. Clearly, he could skate and score when he put his mind to it.

The fact that Bob Probert played sixteen seasons in the NHL is a pretty impressive accomplishment considering the punishment he put his body through while on the ice. However, it becomes even more impressive when you consider he defeated his fiercest opponent in his addictions, and became a better husband and a better father to his four children.

At age 45, Bob Probert is gone too soon. Forget his stats, his PIMs, and what he did on the ice. The man was a regular participant in charity hockey games, and willingly visited the Canadian troops stationed in Afghanistan for ball hockey games and morale-inducing fun.

I guess what this entire article comes down to is that I respect Bob Probert not so much for what he did in the NHL, but more for what he has become since leaving the spotlight. He's a committed and loving husband, a proud father, a recovering addict who can be an inspiration for others, and a proud Canadian. In other words, he's a true champion for overcoming all his adversity and for touching others with his message and good will.

And now he's gone. Far too soon.

Rest in peace, Bob Probert. Your legacy on the ice is far overshadowed by all the good you've done off the ice in my view. I just wish the world had more time for you to do more.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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