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Not Just "Lucky"

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
Luc Robitaille worked hard for the honor of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
TORONTO -- Parents often have to tread a fine line when it comes to telling their kids the truth, something Claude Robitaille no doubt understood a few decades ago when quizzed by his young hockey-playing son.

``I remember asking my dad, when I was younger, before I was dressing, `Dad, do I look really slow out there?''' Luc Robitaille said. ``My dad was always positive and pushing me and he said, `Son, all I know is that when there's a loose puck, you seem to be first on it every time.' I said, `OK.' He said, `Don't worry about it. Just work hard.'''

Mission accomplished. Luc Robitaille on Monday receieved hockey's highest honor, an invitation to its Hall of Fame, as he joined Brett Hull, Brian Leetch, Lou Lamoriello and Steve Yzerman in one of the most star-studded classes in Hall history.

``Apparently there was someone that wrote ... somewhere on the report: `This kid will never make it. He's slower than the Zamboni,''' Robitaille said with a laugh, ``It was a really fast one. It was a turbo Zamboni. It was the only one made that way.''

It's hard to imagine much more of a long-shot Hall of Famer than Robitaille, the Kings' ninth-round draft pick in 1984 who went on to become the highest-scoring left wing in NHL history and perhaps the most popular player in Kings franchise history.

Throughout his career, Robitaille answered to the nickname ``Lucky,'' but the anecdotes from family and friends make it something of a misnomer. Skill and hard work, not luck, got Robitaille his Hall of Fame ring Monday. - Rich Hammond
On his big day, Robitaille, now the Kings' president of business operations, found himself surrounded by colleagues, friends and family, including the parents, Madeleine and Claude, who oversaw his formative years.

Sure, they saw the kid who grew up playing hockey with great hands and less-than-fleet feet, but they retained faith in their son, even on that tough day when he came back from the Montreal Forum having been picked in the ninth round.

``I knew a lot of the players that were drafted,'' Claude Robitaille said Monday. ``He played with them in junior, and I would say he was as good as them, but he wasn’t getting drafted. I said, `What’s going on?’ Well, they thought he wasn’t skating fast enough, but it’s not about that. It’s about coming out of the corner with the puck, you know?

``He would have been drafted earlier the next year, because he was proclaimed the junior player of the year. He was drafted a year too early, because nobody saw him except the L.A. Kings scout, Mr. (Alex) Smart. He wanted to draft him earlier, but he couldn’t convince them. But he was convinced. I remember him saying, `If he doesn’t get drafted, I’ll make sure they invite him.’ I said, `That’s all he wants, to be invited. Then he will prove himself afterward.''

Robitaille proved himself on the ice, yes, but he also scored with his personality. Never dour, always quick with a pat on the back and a laugh, Robitaille made himself almost impossible to dislike.

Other than family -- including his wife, Stacia, and sons Steven and Jesse -- perhaps nobody knows Robitaille better than his close friend and former player agent Pat Brisson, who first met Robitaille as his teammate in junior hockey.

If Robitaille had changed, Brisson would know. Brisson is the guy who, with full blessing, would drive Robitaille's convertible -- rather than his beat-up 1971 Toyota -- when the Kings went on road trips in the late 1980s.

``That's his biggest quality: Luc is Luc,'' Brisson said Monday. ``Luc was the same way, at 19 years old, as he is at 43. The same way. More experienced obviously, because of life, but the same personality.

``Always curious, always very happy-go-lucky. He makes you feel like a million bucks all the time. He's holding court and he's always happy. He has a good heart. He's always been the same, no matter what. He's human, and he takes himself at the same level as anybody.''

That quality, more often than not, comes from parents. Asked what qualities he and his wife tried to instill in their young son, Claude Robitaille came up with a quick answer -- ``Honesty,'' he said -- then expanded on what he wanted his son to do.

``Be true to yourself and give 100 percent toward whatever you want to accomplish,'' Claude Robitaille said. ``Now he’s working with the Kings, and sometimes he calls me at 9 o’clock in the morning and I say, `It’s 6 in L.A., what are you doing?’ And he says, `I’m going to work.’

``I say, `What do you mean, going to work at 6 o’clock in the morning?’ `Aw, I pick up my coffee and bagel and go to work.’ So I know he’s serious about everything he does. That’s why we’re so proud of him.''

Robitaille retired with 668 goals and 1,394 points, both records for NHL left wingers, a far cry from the slow-skating kid from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League who didn't get selected until the ninth round.

Throughout his career, Robitaille answered to the nickname ``Lucky,'' but the anecdotes from family and friends make it something of a misnomer. Skill and hard work, not luck, got Robitaille his Hall of Fame ring Monday.

``I really gave it my best every day,'' Luc Robitaille said. ``That's why, when people ask me if I miss the game, I say no. Because there was nothing left to squeeze out of that lemon. When I retired, I knew I gave it my best shot. I remember, when I was 18 and I got drafted. I used to idolize guys who played junior and watch them. I remember some guys had big bellies, and they were only 23 years old. Those were guys I idolized when they were in junior.

``I remember seeing those guys and thinking, `Man, what happened to these guys? How come they're not in the NHL? They were so good. ' Listening to them, after they would skate, they would say, `Aw man, I wish I would have worked harder. I wish I would have worked out in the summer. Did you see this guy made it and I didn't?'

``I remember sitting there thinking, `Man, I'll never say that. I'll never say I wish I would have done something different.' I wasn't good every day, but I did give it my best every day. I don't have any regret in that way.''
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