Providence Bruins forward Bobby Robins is used to the chirps. The 32-year-old hockey lifer leads the American Hockey League in penalty minutes and had 150 last season, his first in Providence, in 35 games.
And when it comes to talking trash after the gloves have been dropped, Robins' adversaries come prepared.
"One of the best chirps I had was somebody told me, 'Hey Robins, stick to journal writing, buddy," Robins told NHL.com. "It was pretty funny. It means they read it. That's a good thing."
The "journal" Robins' combatant was referring to is actually a blog the UMass-Lowell graduate has been updating on his website (www.bobbyrobins.com) since last summer. The online journal has introduced Robins to a new audience, slowly earning him some unexpected attention.
Robins' writings are more than just a cursory introduction to one of the AHL's toughest players. It's a glimpse -- a well-written one at that -- into the frustrating life of a hockey nomad who on countless occasions over the years could have given up on his dream. Difficult experiences like getting cut at local semi-pro tryouts, going toe-to-toe with the biggest guy on the opposing team, and moving to Europe to play only to get stiffed on a paycheck.
It answers the numerous questions skeptics ask about why someone would continue to pursue a career that offers little pay and less security.
It was inspired by a cancer scare three years ago.
"I had been chewing tobacco for about 11 years and had a really bad, full-blown nicotine addiction. That summer, I came to Wisconsin and didn't really know what I was going to do with my life, if I was even going to play hockey anymore," said Robins, who grew up in Peshtigo, Wis., about an hour north of Green Bay. "I had a spot in my mouth, a cancer scare. It was so intense. That was pretty much one of the most pivotal moments of my life. I actually quit cold turkey right there."
A biopsy came back negative, and Robins' experience kicking his tobacco habit inspired him to write a sprawling diary documenting his journey. The four-part blog, entitled "Metamorphosis," was written 500 days after Robins quit chewing tobacco. After a few days wondering whether or not to put the post online, he eventually published the piece. With multiple insightful posts since then, Robins hasn't looked back.
"There've actually been a few players who have contacted me and told me that some of my writing inspired them to quit chewing tobacco -- guys I don't even know. To think I had a part in that for someone else is a pretty special feeling," Robins said. "The scariest thing was putting it out there. Once you push that 'publish' button, it's out there in the real world. You expose a little bit of your soul and your personality in your writing. That was a big step for me."
Since finding his voice online, Robins has become a fan favorite in Providence, putting him one step away from the NHL. He would like to someday write a book detailing a career that has seen him play in four leagues on two continents. But until then, he's pursuing his NHL dream while enjoying his expanding following.
"I was just used to that feeling of wandering around year to year. It seems that once everything clicked into place, it seemed like the hockey stability came along with that. I love playing in Providence, and the fans here are just unbelievable," Robins said. "When I was in college, my coach would snoop around and see how his players were doing in class. He told me later that he went to talk to one of my English professors and the professor was surprised. He said, 'I didn't even know [he] was a hockey player.' That was a big compliment."
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