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Reactions to the death of a hockey icon: Bob Probert dead at 45

Jul 6, 2010, 12:07 AM EDT

bobprobert-gettyimages.jpgWith the shocking news of the passing of Bob Probert today at the age of 45, it’s tough to gauge just what the reaction would be to losing a guy whose aura on the ice was one that instilled fear in opponents. He was the rogue sheriff in a somewhat lawless era of the NHL. An era where the “code” dictated the laws between enforcers and an era where messing with another team’s superstar could turn a hockey game into a now abused cliché about how you went to the fights and a hockey game broke out.

I’m old enough to say that I was at the perfect age to believe that Bob Probert was an indestructible force in the NHL. A guy who would stand up for your teammates no matter what and he’d make “the bad guys” pay for their transgressions and he would do it out of respect for his teammates and for the game itself. After all, if there wasn’t guys like Bob Probert out on the ice taking care of business when their teammates were wronged, who was going to handle it? Back in the 80s, the league wasn’t stepping in to mete out punishment, it was up to guys like Probert to do so and he earned the respect of everyone on the ice in doing so. What’s not to love about a guy that does that pulls the respect card like that? Sure the guy had problems in his personal life. He fought demons with cocaine and alcohol abuse for years. He was arrested. He was banned from going to some road games because he wasn’t allowed to cross the border. What makes people love a guy with so many flaws like this? He was kind to those off the ice. A man with a huge heart who would take the time to ask how you were doing even though his celebrity status should’ve meant he never had to do that. He would do it anyhow, just like how any of us regular schmoes might if we were in those superstar shoes. Bob Probert was just a regular guy that made it big and we rooted for him to do well because it felt like he was one of us making it big.

What are others saying about this iconic figure of skill, protection and pugilism on the rink and a caring man off of it? The plaudits are many. Join us after the jump to read more.

Mitch Albom – Detroit Free Press:

Young kids won’t understand our fascination with Probert. They don’t make his kind anymore. They don’t encourage it and they don’t tolerate it. But there is a reason you still see people wearing his jersey at Joe Louis Arena, more than 15 years since he last played for Detroit.

Coming up in the 1980s, Bob Probert was the sort of warrior they now model video game characters after. Relentless. Brutal. Single-minded. Unafraid of blood. He was an enforcer, a goon, a guy whose main purpose was to make sure nobody messed with his team’s stars. Someone touched Steve Yzerman? Bob Probert touched back hard. Someone ran the goalie? Probert ran him harder.

Don Cherry reflects on Probert the fighter and showman. Reading all of this piece by Chris Johnston – The Canadian Press is a must.

Cherry remembers attending a game where Probert was set to have a rematch with Troy Crowder after the two had staged a memborable fight earlier in the season. Everyone in the building was abuzz with anticipation.

“I said to the linesman before, ‘If they get started don’t break them up.’ The linesman said, ‘Are you kidding? I want to see it, too,”‘ recalled Cherry. “The puck was up in the other end and everyone was watching Probert and Crowder. I remember he hit Crowder so hard, his helmet went about 10 feet in the air.

“It was a dandy.”

Joey Kocur, a teammate and opponent of Probert’s on the ice reflects on a lost friend.

“My favourite memory of Bob would be sitting down before a game, going over the opposing lineup and picking and choosing who would go first and if the goalie would be safe or not,” Kocur said in a statement. “It was great to be able to go out on the ice knowing that he had my back and I had his.

“He was like the brother I never had.”

Versus’ Adrian Dater hears from both Ian Laperriere and Stu Grimson, legendary fighters in their own right.

“He was the scariest player I ever played against, for sure,” Philadelphia Flyers fighter Ian Laperriere said. “I never fought him, but he chased me around a lot.”

Stu Grimson elaborates a bit more on Probert the man off the ice.

Grimson said he got to know Probert better when their careers were both over. Together, they were part of a contingent of ex-players who went to Afghanistan to visit with Canadian troops several years ago.

“We got to sit down and talk more and it was good. We played a lot of ball hockey with the troops and had a good time,” Grimson said. “I locked horns with Bob probably more than anybody else in my career. We always had a kind of unspoken connection, that most fighters do.”

Aaron Portzline of the Puck Rakers Blog caught up with Flyers enforcer Jody Shelley, a guy whose career was really carved through by what guys like Probert did years ago. Shelley has nothing but admiration for the man.

Shelley called him “Mr. Probert” when he asked Probert to fight in the first period.

“When I asked him to fight the first time, I heard the words come out of my mouth, and I thought, ‘Oh god, I’m done.’ He said no problem. The puck dropped and there we go.”

Shelley never met Probert away from the ice, he said.

“I never got to shake the man’s hand and say thanks to him,” Shelley said. “Thanks for the great memories, thanks for showing us younger guys the way, and thanks for giving me a chance to “go” with him when I was just a young guy coming up in the league.

“But, you know what? I got to meet him on the ice, doing his business. And that’s a special way to meet him.”

(Photo courtesy: Glen Cratty/Allsport/Getty Images)

  1. Brent Hoven - Jul 6, 2010 at 12:17 AM

    Well put. You are right. We are at the age where we believed “that Bob Probert was an indestructible force in the NHL. A guy who would stand up for your teammates no matter what and he’d make “the bad guys” pay for their transgressions and he would do it out of respect for his teammates and for the game itself.” I couldn’t have said it any better.
    He was a god amongst men to me when growing up. Don’t cross Probert, or you’re gonna go through hell. Be a good boy, or the Probert will visit you in your sleep.
    RIP Bob. Your blood, sweat, and tears will always be on the ice. Now go enforce the code up in the heavens.

  2. JaggedEdge - Jul 6, 2010 at 1:09 AM

    Bob Probert was not a goon & I would say he was perhaps the best fighter I had ever seen on the ice. But off ice, he was like many (not all tho’) enforcers, quiet & soft spoken – we Kings fans all know how Marty Mac was off ice. And I knew he also had offensive skills but not sure how many points & see now he averaged a point about every 3rd game; not bad for a true tough guy.
    He was not a Tiger, not a Hammer, not a Tim Hunter, nor a Ken Linesman, etc. & I always respected him for that.
    I recall once, tho’ not who it was, but some middleweight wanted to fight him, but he skated away as he knew he would have nailed that smaller player. No saint, but he always seemed fair to me, in whom he would fight, & don’t recall any cheap shots by him & the guy could definitely chip in with offense from time to time.
    This from a Kings/NHL fan of 40+ years.
    Rest in peace Bob
    I send my prayers & sympathies to his wife, children & all who knew & loved him….

  3. Laurie - Jul 6, 2010 at 1:43 AM

    I am so sorry for his family and my prayers are with them, but I live in Windsor and it seemed that over the years whenever the name Bob Probert came up – and it was alot – he was on the news because he was busted for something or other – drugs – DUI – not sure but I think he may have even done jail time!? Always kept thinking why can’t this idiot get his act together!?! He had everything going for him – his wife is gorgeous – he had a great career – had money – and most importantly, great kids! I always felt that he was an embarrassment to our city – Its so sad that he died so young but I don’t think he should be made a hero due to his untimely death, which will probably occur – Rather his life should be viewed as a warning to our children as to how not to live their lives, because truly, he wasn’t a very good role model. I mean no disrespect to his family and perhaps in his honour they could start some sort of organization to avoid this same thing happening to other athletes – just a thought – again my prayers are with his wife, children and family – I am so sorry for your loss! :(

  4. Carl Smith - Jul 6, 2010 at 1:55 AM

    My wife and I had the privilige to spend some time with Bob when he came over to the UK a couple of years back. He was a true gentleman. He spent the entire evening in the Coventry rink shaking hands, signing autographs and talking hockey. My wife was running the junior club booster table and he spent ages helping her raise money for the kids.

  5. planktonDisciple - Jul 6, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    The Bruise Brothers was Probert, Kocur and Randy McKay. Those other two lads also put fear into opponents.

  6. crazy art - Jul 6, 2010 at 10:50 AM

    thank you BOBBY PROBERT PRO B for all the wonderful entertainment at joe louis.you will be sadly missed.god bless your wife n children.youll always be the MAN. I will always be A FAN !!!God bless

  7. stratovani - Jul 6, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    Only one word can truly describe Bob Probert – actually, two words – OLD SCHOOL! He played in a legendary era in hockey history, when teams like the Canadiens, Islanders, and Oilers swaggered their way to Stanley Cups. When division rivalries were the most important games around. When refs and linemen would let the fighters fight. Hockey today may have faster and bigger players, but the intensity it used to have just isn’t there. Rest in peace, Mr.Probert, you were the king of warriors in an era full of legendary warriors.

  8. david rose - Jul 6, 2010 at 2:32 PM

    Growing up in Waterford, MI playing hockey on the pond “Huron Ct. East Side!” It was always a battle over who would be Stevie Y and Pro B! Always looked forward to his fights and his goals, the guy could crash heads and the nets! I’ll always smile when I hear the name. Kick some butt in the after-life buddy, Jesus could use an enforcer these days!!

  9. Shawn - Jul 7, 2010 at 8:20 AM

    I saw Probert @ my 1st ever game @ the ‘Joe. He is the reason I love hockey. THANK YOU Mr. Probert. You sir, will be missed. To his wife & children, who better to have your back then our beloved Bobby.

  10. Dayna+Karli - Jul 7, 2010 at 6:54 PM

    I am a the hockey coach of a girls pee wee team and my daughter has played against Bob’s duaghter. We hve met hm and he signed my daughters stick for her… she idolized him. My heart and prayers go out to Bobs family and I hope they know he will be sadly missed.

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