Some people are just larger than life, regardless of whether or not they become a household name.
Unless you're a hockey fan, you might not know the name Bob Probert. However, to us hockey fans, his was a name to be respected, feared, and loved. Bob Probert passed away this Monday after suffering a heart attack while boating with his family on Lake St Clair. He was only 45 years old.
A native of Windsor, Ontario, Bob was picked 46th over all in the 1985 NHL entry draft by the Detroit Red Wings. He played in Detroit for nine seasons before spending another six with the Chicago Blackhawks. He played in 935 regular season NHL games , as well as 81 playoff games. Not what you call a prolific scoring machine, Probert nevertheless had 384 regular season points and 48 playoff points. No, Bobby Probert wasn't known for finding the back of the net...he was known as A Force To Be Reckoned With.
Every team has an enforcer, a go-to tough guy who keeps the other team's player's off your key goal-scorer's back so that they can continue to be your team's key goal scorer. (You think Wayne Gretzky could have done his thing with such ease if not for guys like Mark Messier or Marty McSorley? Please.....) No, Bob Probert was an enforcer, a tough guy, and a helluva player, amassing an incredible 3300 penalty minutes in the regular season and another 274 during the playoffs. Doing the math, that's over 59 and a half FULL GAMES worth of time in the penalty box.
Numerous dignitaries from the National Hockey League were on hand for Probert's funeral yesterday, including NHL Vice President Colin Campbell, Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, Red Wings general manager Ken Holland, as well as current and former Red Wings Joe Kocur, Kris Draper, Darren McCarty, Dino Ciccarelli, Stu Grimson, Dave Lewis, Mickey Redmond and Paul Ysabaert. That's some pretty heady company.
Campbell and Yzerman both spoke during the service, remembering Probert as a wonderful teammate revered by players around the league
Yzerman recalled a story from the 1989 All-Star Game, when a handful of NHL stars, including Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier asked to be introduced to Probert.
"They wanted to meet the big guy," said Yzerman. "They respected him as a player."Despite his off-ice struggles with drugs and alcohol, Probert had a significant impact on the game, said Campbell, a former Detroit assistant coach.
"We had many challenges with Bob early in his career," said Campbell, "But he battled through them all to become one of the biggest impact players in the NHL...I always used to think that I was helping Bob, but looking back now I realize that he was giving me life lessons."
During his days on the ice, Probert never shied away from a fight. He was part of many memorable battles, often exchanging punches with an opponent until his elbow and shoulder pads had fallen to the ice. The list of his fighting partners reads like a who's who of NHL tough guys: Grimson, Domi, Marty McSorley, Basil McRae and Donald Brashear.
Domi was visibly moved following the service.
"Everyone thought that Bob and I hated each other, but we had a great mutual respect," said Domi, a native of nearby Belle River. "I always loved playing against Bob because he always competed so hard."
Bob Probert versus Tie Domi, early 1990's
But Yzerman said Probert was more than just a tough guy.
"Bob was one of the single biggest reasons for the rebirth of the Detroit Red Wings back in the 1980s," he said. "Bob Probert was not just a one-dimensional hockey player. Yes, he had fists of stone, but he also had a soft scoring touch."
It was fitting that the avid motorcyclist's casket was carried from the funeral home on a specially-constructed motorcycle sidecar in a procession of over 50 bikes. Hundreds lined the roadways to pay their respects, and there was no shortage of Probert jerseys along the way.