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Feared tough guy Bob Probert dies at 45

Monday, 07.05.2010 / 8:25 PM / News

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

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Feared tough guy Bob Probert dies at 45
Former Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks forward Bob Probert died  Monday afternoon after collapsing in a boat on Lake St. Clair.
Legendary NHL tough guy Bob Probert died Monday after collapsing while on a boat on Lake St. Clair near Windsor, Ont. He was 45 and is survived by his wife, Dani, and their four children.

Probert was boating with his children, father-in-law and mother-in-law. His father-in-law, Dan Parkinson, said in a short news conference Monday night at Windsor Regional Hospital that Probert developed "severe chest pain" around 2 p.m. before collapsing to his death. Emergency crews attempted to revive Probert on the shore, but to no avail.

The Windsor Star reported his death was confirmed by Ontario Provincial Police spokeswoman Shawna Coulter shortly after 5 p.m.

"This is a tragedy for the family and totally unexpected," Parkinson said.

AM 800 CKLW, a Windsor radio station, first reported that Probert had collapsed. Probert was rushed to a Windsor Regional Hospital, but attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

Probert, who turned 45 last month, spent his 17-year career with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. He was known as one of the NHL's most feared enforcers and fighters, and he wracked up 3,300 penalty minutes in 935 NHL games. He also had 384 points.

Probert ranks fifth on the NHL's all-time list for most career penalty minutes behind Tiger Williams (3,966), Dale Hunter (3,565), Tie Domi (3,515) and Marty McSorley (3,381), though he played in fewer games than all of those fellow fighters/enforcers. Probert holds the Red Wings franchise records for career penalty minutes (2,090) and penalty minutes in a season (398).

"Obviously this is terrible for Dani and the kids," Eddie Olczyk, a former teammate of Probert in Chicago, told NHL.com. "For as tough as he was on the ice, and that everybody saw, he was kind of soft spoken, the opposite inside the locker room.

"I don't think there is any doubt, in his era he came as tough as there was," added Olczyk, now a Blackhawks' broadcaster. "He was tough as nails. You stayed well clear of him when he was on the ice and when you were on his team you knew he had your back. He knew his role and he was tough. He was tough."

A third-round pick of the Red Wings in 1983, Probert debuted with Detroit in 1985-86. He was voted to the Campbell Conference All-Star team in 1988, the only time he received such an honor.

Probert finished the 1987-88 seasons with career highs in points (62) and PIMs (398). He also led the Wings with 21 points in 16 playoff games, though Steve Yzerman did not play in the playoffs that season.

"Bob was a part of our very first NHL Draft class that also included Steve Yzerman, Joe Kocur, Petr Klima and Stu Grimson," Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch said in a statement. "Bob was always there for his teammates and was one of the toughest men to ever play in the NHL. He also was one of the kindest, most colorful, and beloved players Detroit has ever known.  We are very saddened by his passing and our thoughts and prayers go out to Bob’s family."

"This is a very sad day for Red Wings fans as we have lost one of the toughest players, best power forwards and all-around great guys who ever wore the Winged Wheel," Kocur said. "My favorite 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. 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. My prayers go out to his family."

Longtime Red Wings executive Jim Devellano told the Detroit Free Press that the team never got "100 percent out of him because of his off-ice problems."

Probert was suspended indefinitely by the NHL in 1989 after he was arrested for trying to smuggle cocaine across the Canada-U.S. border. He was involved in a minor motorcycle accident in July 1994 and suffered minor injuries, but police determined his blood alcohol level was roughly triple the legal limit and he had traces of cocaine in his system.

Soon after the Red Wings announced they weren't going to re-sign Probert.

"This is the end," Devellano said at the time. "(In) my 12 years with the organization ... we've never spent more time on one player and his problems than we have on Probert."

"This is a very sad day for Red Wings fans as we have lost one of the toughest players, best power forwards and all-around great guys who ever wore the Winged Wheel.  My favorite 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. 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." -- Joe Kocur on former teammate Bob Probert
Probert signed as an unrestricted free agent with the Chicago Blackhawks in July of 1994, but he did not play in the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season because he was suspended for violating the NHL's substance abuse policy.

He returned for the 1995-96 season and played through 2001-02. Probert officially announced his retirement on Nov. 16, 2002.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Probert family during this difficult time," Blackhawks President John McDonough said in a statement. "Bob will always be a member of the Blackhawks family and his memory will live on through our fans."

Tony Amonte, who played seven seasons with Probert in Chicago from 1995-2002, remembers him as a guy who was always on the move and never let life pass him by.

"He had a lot of hardships in his life, overcome a lot of obstacles, and it looked like he was doing really well these last few years," Amonte told NHL.com. "We had a lot in common because we both loved motorcycles. In the offseason we would be on our Harleys riding around. He seemed to be attached to things that went fast, cars and motorcycles, and that was driving him since he got away from the game.

"He always had to be doing something. That's what was fun about him," Amonte added. "You knew you'd be doing something with him because he was never a guy to sit still. He was a guy that had to get up and go."

Amonte said he last saw Probert at the Blackhawks Convention last summer in Chicago.

"(Probert) was an unbelievable guy, great person, almost like a kid in a man's body is just the guy he was," Amonte said. "He always had a great heart and was always there for his teammates. It was awesome playing with him. I'm devastated by the news, of course."

Quote of the Day

It's pretty crazy, but believe me when I say we didn't draft these players with the mindset we had to because they had good hockey-playing dads. It just turned out that way. But we're certainly glad they're a part of our organization.

— Arizona Coyotes director of amateur scouting Tim Bernhardt regarding the coincidence that six of the organization's top prospects are sons of former NHL players