"The biggest thing for me is it wasn't a vacation. It was a privilege and I wanted to do well, from my first one to my last one."
-- Luc Robitaille, on playing in the NHL All-Star Game
Claude and Madeleine Robitaille didn't have a lot of money, so their son didn't get a chance to get to the Montreal Forum too often. Robitaille, in fact, says he was in the Forum for Habs games only five times before he started his NHL career.
As a die-hard fan, the 42-year-old veteran of 1,431 NHL games, who currently serves as the Los Angeles Kings' president of business operations, remembers each one.
"One time we got to play in the afternoon and then it was the Washington Capitals playing that night," Robitaille told NHL.com. "I went to see Vancouver when Tiger Williams was with them. When I was 15-years-old, I bought a pair of tickets to sit in the last row. My last year in junior we went to see Edmonton and I went to see the Kings with my uncle."
Robitaille was, indeed, a die-hard Montreal Canadiens fan, so it goes without saying that the former Los Angeles Kings great gets what this weekend is all about.
It's not just another NHL All-Star Weekend. It's a celebration.
"I understand the importance of the 100-year anniversary. I think it's truly amazing," Robitaille said. "I know the way the people in Montreal feel about the game of hockey. They celebrate it and understand the stardom of Crosby, Ovechkin and all of these guys. This is an event you see only once in your lifetime."
And Robitaille wouldn't miss it.
He'll be among the NHL alumni attending various events this weekend. He said he can't wait to be a part of the pageantry of the weekend, "just the whole event, to be around it in Montreal. It will be an event that people will remember forever."
Most of all, though, Robitaille is thrilled because All-Star Weekend in Montreal gives him a reason to go home. Asked what he said he's looking forward to most, Robitaille was quick to respond.
"Being with my parents," he said. "I don't see them a lot anymore, maybe three or four times a year."
While this year's All-Star Weekend may feel like a vacation as Robitaille plans to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the celebration, the eight-time NHL All-Star said he never took these events for granted. His stats suggest that much is true.
"The biggest thing for me is it wasn't a vacation," said Robitaille, who had 14 points and a 5-3 record in the All-Star Game. "It was a privilege and I wanted to do well, from my first one to my last one."
Robitaille made his All-Star Game debut in 1988 in St. Louis as a starter for the Campbell Conference. He finished with 2 goals and an assist, but the Wales Conference won in overtime, 6-5, and Mario Lemieux, with a hat trick and 6 points, won the MVP.
His memories from that experience are vivid to this day.
"I was named on the starting roster and was going to play with (Jari) Kurri and (Wayne) Gretzky and that was the thrill of a lifetime," Robitaille said. "I remember in the morning skate Glen Sather said to me, 'You'll do the first shift with Wayne and Jari and then you'll get off the ice.' He said, 'You're not playing on that line, kid.'
"Then he put me with Denis Savard and Glenn Anderson and they said, 'Kid, get open, we'll get you the puck.' They kept me feeding me. They kept saying, 'Kid, we're going to get you that car.'
Unfortunately for me Mario got three goals on the other side."
Robitaille went on to play in All-Star Games in Edmonton (1989), Pittsburgh (1990), Chicago (1991) and Philadelphia (1992) before the game turned up in Montreal in 1993.
It was supposed to be one of the greatest moments of his career and if it weren't for a dreadful 16-6 loss, it would have been. Of his eight All-Star Games, Robitaille was only held pointless in one of them.
"You know, I remember that game well," he said. "Every time we turned around the puck was going into our net. It was absolutely amazing. It was one of those games where nothing went our way. It was just sad in a way."
The disappointment didn't last long.
"Being in Montreal, my family was at the game," Robitaille said. "It was amazing."
Robitaille would play in two more All-Star Games -- 1999 in Tampa and 2001 in Denver. He won his only Stanley Cup with the Red Wings in 2002 and retired in 2006 with 668 goals and 726 assists for 1,394 points, the most ever by a left wing.
He's up for induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame this year. Pundits believe he's a lock along with Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull and Brian Leetch. The class would rival the 2007 class of Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis, Ron Francis and Mark Messier.
"People ask me about it and certainly I hope I get a chance of getting in," Robitaille said. "The thing about the Hall of Fame is it's out of my control now. If I have a chance to get in there one day it's the ultimate capper on my career. I didn't set out to do that, but to end up there is certainly something that no one can ever take away from you. It would be the greatest honor."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.