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Countdown To Immortality

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Steve Yzerman, Brian Leetch, Lou Lamoriello, Luc Robitaille, and Brett Hull at the Hall of Fame fan forum
TORONTO - The family, friends and hockey luminaries are checking into the hotel. Luc Robitaille, presumably, has written his speech, something he fretted over days ago.

How can one sum up a dream, a Hall of Fame hockey career, in a four-minute speech?

Robitaille will try his best Monday, when he, along with Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Lou Lamoriello and Steve Yzerman, is inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.

The ceremony has been widely anticipated since the day Robitaille retired, at the end of the 2005-06 season. Little regarded as a teenager, and selected by the Kings in the ninth round of the 1984 draft, Robitaille had a historic career.

Robitaille finished his 19-year career with 668 goals - most all time among NHL left wingers - and 726 assists in 1,431 games. Twelve of those seasons were spent with the Kings, during which he set the franchise record with 557 goals.

Since May 2007, Robitaille has served as the Kings' president of business operations and remains one of the franchise's most popular figures. Despite all his success - including a Stanley Cup with Detroit in 2002 - Robitaille said he never gave much thought to one day making the Hall of Fame.

"I think I thought of it once in my career and it lasted about five seconds," Robitaille said this week, "because I was so scared the next day I was going to play a bad game and the next thing you know I would be back home. So that was always the fear for me.

"But I do remember scoring my 500th goal and someone said, you know, if you score 500 goals it gives you a real good shot of getting into the Hall of Fame. I remember thinking, `That's pretty cool.' I never thought of it that way. You just keep on playing and try to be the best you could be every day. But I remember it was the reporter that told me that, and I was like, wow, that certainly would be special."

"Special" is a word that friends and teammates have long associated with Robitaille, and not just for his on-ice success.

Two current members of the Kings organization, Mark Hardy and Sean O'Donnell, know Robitaille well. Hardy was Robitaille's teammate with the Kings for parts of four seasons and also served as an assistant coach in Robitaille's last three seasons.

"Just an outstanding person," Hardy said of Robitaille. "Always giving, always respects everybody. He's always been a guy that you could talk to, that you could approach. It didn't matter how big he got as a player, as an All-Star, now as a Hall of Famer. He's always been the same guy. I just remember playing with him, and what a lot of people probably don't remember, is he was a warrior when he was on the ice. He would do anything to win and anything to score goals. He paid a price and he played hard every night.

"Some people think that he floated and that, but this guy played hard every night. He went into the tough areas to score goals, and I'm just very, very happy for him, of the career that he had and what he accomplished. Now he, deservedly, is going into the Hall of Fame. What an outstanding day for him and the Kings."

O'Donnell, now the Kings' most veteran player, broke in with the Kings during the 1994-95 season, the year after Robitaille got traded to Pittsburgh, but later played with Robitaille for three seasons during Robitaille's second stint with the Kings.

O'Donnell shared his memories of playing with, and against, Robitaille.

"He's one of those guys who, if you watched him practice or if you looked at him in pickup hockey, you probably wouldn't be very impressed," O'Donnell said. "I don't think people realize that he had a great shot, but 600 goals, they weren't all pretty ones. Luc wasn't afraid to stand in there. Back in the days, 10 or 15 years ago, those defensemen could chop and hack and cross-check and basically mug you in front of the net. Luc wasn't afraid to take those. He got his stick on a lot of pucks in front of the net. He really went to those dirty areas. Six hundred goals is obviously No. 1 for left wingers. It's an amazing, amazing accomplishment.

"And the thing that makes Luc special is, he's a guy that would have every right to have a little air of confidence, or whatever you would want to call it, but he has none. I don't think anyone can say anything other than that he's the most personable, honest, genuine, down-to-earth guy. He's a great, great role model, even more for off the ice than on the ice. Obviously it had to do with the way he was raised.

"I don't know his parents that well, but obviously he was raised in a way that it's great what you do on the ice, but that doesn't define you. No one is better than anyone else. You treat everyone the same. I don't know if that's the way it was, but I'm imagining something along those lines. He treats the people that valet his car, or the security guards, he treats them the way would other Hall of Famers. He's just a guy who is happy every day and loves life, and he's just a real great human being."

O'Donnell laughed when asked if he was one of those defenseman who used to "chop and hack and cross-check" Robitaille.

"I did," O'Donnell said. "When Luc was playing for the Rangers, in the old Forum, we went at it in front of the net one time. I'll tell you, I gave it to him, a couple cross-checks, and he gave it right back. He gave me an elbow and I gave him a punch and he gave me a punch back. Once the gloves came off, then he jumped down, but before that point, he was dishing out as good as he was getting in front."

Robitaille joins a star-studded induction class. Hull is third all-time in NHL goals scored and won two Stanley Cups. Leetch ranks fifth all-time in defensemen scoring and won the Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy in 1994. Yzerman ranks No. 6 all-time in NHL scoring and won three Stanley Cups. Lou Lamoriello, longtime general manager of the New Jersey Devils (three Cups), goes into the Hall in the "builder" category.

Monday's ceremony will be broadcast in the United States on the NHL Network starting at 4 p.m. Pacific time.

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