Robinson became the 13th player in Canadiens' history to have his number retired by the club.
Somewhere, Larry Robinson still has an old picture of himself as a youngster wearing a Montréal Canadiens jersey.
Growing up in Marvelville, Ontario, he always had the choice of watching either the Toronto Maple Leafs or, if he switched over to French programming, the Canadiens.
Now Robinson has received the ultimate honor from those Canadiens. On Monday night, the club officially retired the No. 19 he wore in Montréal for 17 seasons, raising it to the rafters of the Bell Centre before a matchup with the Ottawa Senators.
Robinson was introduced with a speech from Devils' President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello.
"He was a special player on the ice and a special person off the ice, where I continue to cherish the opportunity to work with him," Lamoriello said.
Robinson won six Stanley Cups and two Norris Trophies with the Canadiens, and said recently that having his number retired by one of hockey's most venerable franchises is perhaps even more special than his 1995 induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
"They're different," Robinson said. "In one, you've been in the league 20 years, and you're being honored for the type of player that you were among your peers.
"When you look up on the wall and the number of players that have played for this organization that are now in the Hall of Fame, it's incredible. But when you look up in the rafters, not everyone that's in the Hall of Fame is up there."
|Robinson won six Stanley Cups with the Canadiens, including four straight from 1976 to 1979. |
Currently an assistant coach with the Devils, Robinson was just the 13th player to have his number immortalized, joining larger-than-life legends like Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau, and former teammates like Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden and Serge Savard.
The No. 19 had been in consistent rotation for the Canadiens since it was first worn by three different players during the 1935-36 season. But no Hab has worn the sweater since it was last donned by Robinson in 1989.
Jassen Cullimore, a defenseman who played two stints with Montréal in the late-1990s, once requested the number and sought Robinson's approval to use it. Robinson said then that it wasn't his call, as the number no longer belonged to him. Somehow Cullimore still wound up with 21, instead.
For Robinson, the fact that the number will always be known as his has brought back memories of how he has arrived at this point, inviting recollections of his road to the NHL and the on-ice successes that soon followed.
"When events like these come around, you always reminisce about where you've been and what you did," he said. "Certainly any time there's an event such as this, you can remember the days when you were out on the pond with your friends playing shinny hockey, or on a bus to Pembroke [Ontario] to play the [Jr. A] Lumber Kings , or on an overnighter from Montréal to Kitchener knowing you had to get up at 5 o'clock the next morning to go work at Kitchener Beverages on a delivery truck.
"You never forget your roots, and certainly I will never forget mine. I make a habit when the season's over of going back to my hometown and going back to Montréal."
Robinson's 20-year professional career began with the AHL's Nova Scotia Voyageurs in 1971-72. After scoring 39 points in 38 games to open the 1972-73 season, he was promoted to the Canadiens, and appeared in his first NHL game on January 8, 1973.
His first taste from the Stanley Cup came at the end of the 1973 season, when the Canadiens defeated the Chicago Blackhawks. Three years later, Robinson was a part of the Canadiens' dynasty that collected four straight championships with wins over the Philadelphia Flyers in 1976; the Boston Bruins in 1977 and 1978; and the New York Rangers in 1979.
Robinson's last title win followed ten years later in 1986, when Montréal beat the Calgary Flames.
By the time he was done wearing the bleu, blanc et rouge
, the 6-4, 220-lb. Robinson was at the top of nearly every offensive category for Canadiens' defensemen. To this day, he leads all Montréal blueliners in regular season games played (1,202), goals (197), assists (686) and points (883), and set team records in 1976-77 with 66 assists and 85 points.
Robinson was a member of the Devils' coaching staff for the team's 1995 title, and with the Devils' 2000 Championship he became just the third coach in NHL history to take over a team in mid-season and win the Stanley Cup.
He had said he looked forward to a time in the near future when his family can attend an event at the Bell Centre and see his banner hanging in the company of some of the game's greats. Banner gazing wasn't something he had much chance to do in his days patrolling the Montréal blueline.
"If you did," Robinson said, "you'd be up in the stands, because someone would nail you."
Finally, he can look up at his name in the rafters, and take it all in.