Bob Probert

During his prime Bob Probert was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the NHL. In fact many experts rank him as the greatest fighter in hockey history.

He quickly built a reputation as a feared fighter who rarely lost. He had some legendary battles with Bob McGill, Tie Domi, Troy Crowder, Todd Ewen and Craig Coxe.

"Those old Norris Division rivalries back then sure were a lot of fun," he recalls

As his reputation spread across the league, he quickly developed an intimidating aura about him. He would play along side the great Steve Yzerman, but instead of watching what amazing trick Stevie Wonder would come up with next, I often found myself focusing in on what his right winger was up to.

That's how good Probert was. I rarely enjoy a hockey fight, it is not why I watch the game. But when I watched Detroit back in the late 1980s and 1990s, I was eagerly anticipating what Bob Probert would be up to on any given night. To watch him do his job was truly an event.

Years would go by, and like most heavyweight champs he became the benchmark for the younger and stronger players, most of whom idolized Probert, to establish their own reputations. He rarely backed down, and always held his own. And he always gave those young guys a chance to make a name for themselves.

"Probie was the epitome of a tough guy,'' Peter Worrell said. "He had a long career. I'm glad I'm not him. If you were waiting to prove yourself as a tough guy, you had to prove it with Probie. Now there's no legitimate No. 1 guy."

``I've got a lot of respect for him. He was tough as nails. The fights from his early days were scary to watch.''

All in all, Probert's 16 NHL season career featured an amazing 231 career fights, and his 3300 PIMs ranked fourth all time when he retired.

Lost in the bloodshed was the fact that was Probert was a very good hockey player. He was a top line player with Detroit for much of his stay there, often riding shotgun with Yzerman and Gerard Gallant. Five times in his career he scored at least 14 goals despite sitting out at least 237 minutes in penalties. In his best year was 1987-88 when he scored 29 goals and 62 points despite accumulating an astonishing 398 PIMs. That year he was invited to the mid-season all star game, and assisted on a goal by Wayne Gretzky. He was dubbed by some members of the media as the most intimidating combination of power and skill aside from Mark Messier.

In total he scored 163 goals and 221 assists for a solid 384 points in an 935 contests. Had he not faced so many suspensions, he would have easily topped the magical 1,000 game mark.

He was not the one-dimensional goon that so many of his contemporaries were. He established that he could play the game well, but he never shied away from his policeman duties. He was not only a better player than the other goons, but he was a better fighter. He had the most amazing balance on skates, and rarely went down. He also had that glare in his eyes that screamed "if looks could kill" that only enhanced his feared reputation. Probert entered every altercation with a huge psychological advantage.

Unfortunately for hockey's ultimate bad boy, Probert's life has been consumed with a bigger fight that he has never been able to win. Alcoholism and drug use plagued Probert while he played and after he retired. He was arrested six times for driving under the influence while he played in Detroit. He was also convicted of smuggling cocaine across the Canadian-USA border, a crime he served 90 days in prison for. He was also suspended by the NHL for life because of the incident, but had the ban lifted over a year later when he checked out of a substance abuse program. Despite his return, part of his prison sentence stated he was forbidden from leaving the United States, meaning he could not play road games in Canada let alone return home to southern Ontario until approximately Christmas, 1992. When he joined Chicago in 1994 he would crash his motorcycle in another drinking and driving incident and was suspended for the entire season.

Trouble has continued to follow Probert in retirement. But in recent years he really cleaned up his act. He had his demons and his problems, but he was a good man with a big heart.

That heart failed him on July 5th, 2010. While out boating on Lake St. Clair, he collapsed from chest pains. Authorities administered CPR upon the boat's arrival on shore, but to no avail. By the time Probert reached the hospital he was pronounced dead. He was just 45 years old.


Greg G 10:25 AM  

I could not agree more with what has been said here. When "Probie" was on the ice I always concentrated on what he was doing, no matter who else was on the ice with him! Even though he was a Wing and he pounded lumps on my Hawks I really admired him. Then he becomes a Blackhawk and I was elated. I still have Bob Probert withdrawls and wish he was with us right now. For me he is the all time greatest NHL "Enforcer" and he could play too! Greg G

JKidd 12:17 PM  

There was Bob Probert - and then everyone else. In both fighting skills and enforcers who could play. An all star, the league champ for a decade, the pinnacle of what the enforcer should be... he was just the perfect mix. With the gloves off, the even more perfect mix of a long reach, endless endurance, incredible power, and even better balance. Through all his wars, its a very rare thing to find another fighter ragdolling Probie, unlike many other guys that could easily get whipped around and caught in a spin cycle.

He had his personal demons off the ice, no doubt. But on the ice, he is and will remain the best fighter the league has ever seen - and the best enforcer the league could ever fathom.

A true hockey god to those that appreciate the pugilistic side of the game - as I do.

Anonymous,  7:38 AM  

Funny thing, Probert has never been admitted to his hometown sports hall of fame. Even funnier, there's a guy in there who played one game in the NHL, and another guy who played 1 AHL game, but no Probert.

Anonymous,  9:15 PM  

there will never be another bob probert. i'am from detroit loved
to go to the joe and watch him

cemetery seth 2:29 PM  

RIP probie. First jersey I ever owned and still have it to this day my all time favorite red wing.

Anonymous,  10:22 AM  

Awesome player to watch, I mean AWESOME in a true sense of the word, not the way kids use the word.
Would have been a 30-30 guy if he wasn't in the box so much.
RIP, Probie.

Mike,  5:34 PM  

Bob was such a good player. A solid skater, tough to get off the puck. He knew the game and brought a presence that I yet to see again in any sport.

Lebron, Tom Brady, Anderson matters not what athlete there is in the world, none of them bring the anticipation and energy in the crowd like Probert.

Probert at Maple Leaf Gardens is an example of what I'm saying. The crowd, all of them, would be going nuts to kill Probert. The place would be rocked to the foundation just cause of him! Never seen anything like him in sports and I probably never will.

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