In this edition of the "85 Years" series, Dave Manson remembers fellow NHL tough guy and all-time great enforcer Bob Probert.
Being an enforcer in the NHL is dirty, hard work most of the time. Fighting in hockey is a tool; a lot of people can mishandle it and use it the wrong way, but in the right hands it can be something special.
That’s what I think of when I remember Bob Probert. For my money, not only was he the best enforcer of his generation — probably the best of all-time — but he respected the role he had on his team, and he never stopped doing it.
"85 YEARS" SERIES
On November 17, 1926, the Chicago Black Hawks took the ice for the first time. 85 years later, the Blackhawks hold an important place in NHL history and Chicago sports.
In celebration of the Blackhawks’ 85th anniversary, Blackhawks Magazine and chicagoblackhawks.com will profile some of the greatest players to ever don the sweater, with essays written by the people who knew them best: teammates, rivals, broadcasters and other members of the NHL community.
Check chicagoblackhawks.com every Wednesday for another entry in the "85 Years" series.
Recent "85 Years" essays:
> Doug Wilson, by Tony Esposito
> Eddie Belfour, by Darren Pang
> The Pony Line, by Harvey Wittenberg
> Pierre Pilote, by Glenn Hall
> Jonathan Toews, by Steve Yzerman
> Bill Hay, by Eric Nesterenko
He was a tough player, but people don’t understand everything he was capable of. Probie had a lot of skill, too, but his fighting always overshadowed the skill part of his game. I mean, he scored 29 goals one year, and I know a lot of people say, “Ah, he played with Steve Yzerman.” Well, true, he did, but Yzerman scored 200 points because he played with Bob Probert.
When Probie was with the Red Wings, he was one player that you always had to cover. For me, it meant defending him in front of the net on the power play. When Detroit had the man advantage, you knew if you went after Yzerman that you were going to have to deal with him. But you also had to respect Probert’s skill because if there was a loose puck there, he’d put it in the net. He was strong enough to beat just about anyone around the crease.
I enjoyed the challenge of playing against him because I was a big, physical guy and he played a physical game. If we went into the corner together, it was a battle. If he took advantage of me, I was going to battle him hard; if he crossed the line, then we were going to go at it.
Probie and I fought a couple of times through the years. The first time he took a run at me, I took exception to it and then we went. The second time, after he fought Bob McGill in the first period and another guy in the second, I happened to line up beside him, and he goes, “You’re next.” So then we went. You hated playing against Bob Probert, but you had to respect the intensity he brought to the ice every night.
When I came back to the Blackhawks [in 1998], I was a little nervous. You’re nervous whenever you’re traded, walking into the dressing room when all the players are there. In my case, I’d had battles with numerous players on that team — not just Probert, but Paul Coffey, Doug Gilmour and Doug Zmolek, as well. I was nervous about how they were going to perceive me and if I’d be welcomed back. Well, I walked into the room for the first time, and there to shake my hand and welcome me aboard was Probie; it definitely eased the tension. You all have a common bond, and it’s the nature of the beast to be moved around. Once you get in the same dressing room, it’s one for all and all for one. Probie understood that, and to him I was a Blackhawk the moment I walked in the door.
Tough guys tend to hang out together, and Probie liked to go out with us to supper, and we always had fun. Away from the ice, I saw a different side of Bob Probert compared to what fans saw during games. NHL role players and tough guys do a lot of community work, they’re family men, they are very committed to their team, and they’re usually pranksters. They like to have fun because it takes away from the tension of the job that’s been cast on them. Probie was one of the guys in the locker room who knew how to have fun but also knew the value of hard work. Players around our locker room always tended to gravitate toward him.
As we both got older, there were always newer, younger enforcers coming up who wanted to make a name for themselves by fighting against the best. Bob Probert was the best, bar none, and he always obliged. Even after all of those nagging injuries and sore spots every player gets through, he still did it and took pride in his position on the team.
We used to tell him, “Probie, we’ll do it. Let one of us take this one.” He never once took us up on that offer. He respected his place on the team too much to ever do that.