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Blood, Sweat and Cheers: Bob Probert on the 'Enforcer'

by Brad Boron / Chicago Blackhawks

Few players in Blackhawks history can match the raw power and sheer fan-pleasing ability of Chicago’s notorious tough guys. When needed, these hard-nosed hitters put their bodies on the line to stand up for their teammates or turn the momentum of a game.

Last summer, Blackhawks Magazine sat down with Bob Probert to get his thoughts on his career and the future of the enforcer role in the NHL.

How did each of you first get placed into your role as an ‘enforcer’?

Starting in junior hockey, I always loved the tougher side of the sport and thought that was the way the game should be played. I was always one of the biggest guys on my team and the way that I liked to play as a youngster translated as I got older. It soon became my role to protect my teammates.
When I was drafted by Detroit, I wanted to do whatever I had to so I could break into the NHL. The Red Wings didn’t have any size before my draft class; the year before I was drafted Darryl Sittler got hit from behind and busted his face up, and that next year Detroit drafted all big, tough guys. They wanted to toughen up the team and I knew right away what my role could be. That’s what got me there.

Is being an enforcer just about protecting your teammates, or are there other purposes?

It’s about protecting your teammates, but it’s also about changing the momentum of the game. A big fight, win or lose, can really spark your team. When you’re down by a goal or two and you want to do something to turn the game around, a good fight or even just sticking up for your team can definitely change a game.

Obviously, the game has changed from the past eras to now. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in recent years?

The biggest change that I’ve noticed is that back when I played, you had light-weights, middleweights and heavyweights, and you’d have all kinds of guys fighting. Now it’s just heavyweights who fight and you don’t see smaller guys drop the gloves.
There’s not a lot of room for guys who can’t play the game in today’s NHL. You have to have skills beyond just fighting. Don’t forget what got you there, but the old days – taking guys out to center ice, dropping the gloves, and not really helping anywhere else – they’re over.

In a lot of ways, the game’s cyclical; right now there’s a big focus on offense, where just a few years ago it was a much tighter defensive game. Do you think the era of the classic enforcer has permanently ended, or is there a chance we’ll see it again some day?

You’re going to see the occasional big fight like that. But if that’s all a guy can do, he’s not going to make it. And if he did, the game would be going in the wrong direction. I think that guys are such better athletes now; a team is really losing a line if you have a line of fighters. Teams are trying to find guys who can both play the game and take care of the rough stuff. I know that I was fortunate to play and score a few goals. Both jobs are fun.
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