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In a sport where penalty minutes is a stat like goals scored and assists, being regarded as one of the National Hockey League’s greatest ever enforcers is more of an accolade than it sounds.
Writer: Andy Afford - as printed in Pitch Issue No.1
Playing over 900 games across 17 years as a pro with firstly the Detroit Red Wings and latterly the Chicago Blackhawks, this tough-as-teak motorcycle-loving power forward racked up the fifth highest (3,300) number of minutes spent in the penalty box, despite playing far fewer matches than any of the other ‘inductees’. In an era – the ‘80s and ‘90s – filled with hard nuts, Probert was described by Eddie Olczyk, a former teammate and current Blackhawks broadcaster as being, ‘as tough as they were’.
With his on-ice contribution never questioned by teammates, it was what happened away from it that caused more concerns. Suspended indefinitely by the NHL in 1989 after arrest on the Canadian border attempting to smuggle cocaine into the United States.
A motorcycle crash in 1994 led to drink-and drugs driving conviction. He failed to return to hockey in 1995 after violating the League’s substance abuse policy, finally retiring from the sport in 2002.
A parking violation in June 2004 led to a street altercation and the subsequent need for Windsor’s police force to mobilise in larger numbers than would ordinarily prove necessary. Where in 2005 it was a breach of the peace arrest, as well as a further probation violation when consuming liquor in a bar in Tecumseh, Ontario, that saw Probert once again spending time in the cooler.
Long time Red Wings executive Jim Devellano said, “In my 12 years with the organisation, we’ve never spent more time on one player and his problems than we have on Probert.”
Fellow ‘Bruise Brother’ and team-mate, Joe Kocur said of Probert, “My favourite memory of Bob would be sitting down before a game, going over the opposing line-up and picking and choosing who would go first and if the goalie would be safe or not.” He died in 2010 at the age of 45, suffering a massive heart attack whilst on a boat on Lake St. Clair near the family home in Windsor.
On Sunday April 9, 2017, his family scattered his ashes in the Red Wings sin bin at the Joe Louis Arena.
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