Thursday, April 09, 2015


Bob Probert's Tragic Story

Occasionally, I come across a book that I would heartily recommend to a selected audience. The book in this case is, “Tough Guy”. It is the story about Bob Probert, as told by Kirstie McLellan Day. I would intend to place this book in the hands of every athlete who intends to move from junior ranks to become a pro. The book is written about a hockey player, and a good one, mind you. But a hockey player who lived on the fringe, and did not realize that he was completely out of control, until it was too late. The book should be given to all potential athletes, no matter what the sport may be.

On the cover of the book, there is a quote from the Ottawa Citizen: “Funny as hell”. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a book about a very tragic figure who made globs of money playing the game that most young Canadians would love to play. Probert began to spin out of control almost as soon as he strapped on his blades professionally. He was born June 5, 1965, and died, tragically, when he was forty years old in 2005.

We remember “Probie” as a fighter, and justifiably so. There are eleven pages at the back of the book, listing all of his NHL fights. They begin with a scrap against Craig Coxe, once a Belleville Bull. A fan favourite, I might add. Coxe stood six inches over six feet tall, and was a lanky lad when he first stepped onto the ice at the Yardmen.

He feared no one, and did not back away from any scrap. I distinctly remember a game when he strolled around the ice, looking for a potential customer after wrestling with a couple of guys. The Kitchener bench was furious with him. They taunted him, cursed at him. He took three strides from centre ice and dove, spread-eagled into the crowd at the bench. A heap of fur flew before they could untangle Mr. Coxe from the mess. 

The list of Probert’s combatants is long and distinguished, and includes all of the tough guys from his era: Tony Twist, Donald Brashear, Georges Laraque, Tie Domi, Sandy McCarthy, Bryan Marchment, Stu Grimson, Al Secord, Troy Crowder, Marty McSorley, Chris Nilan...

A Windsor kid, many of his legal difficulties stemmed from his border crossings. He played much of his career in Detroit, but also spent seven seasons with the Black Hawks. His days with the Red Wings were his most memorable, and his most successful. On two occasions, he scored 20 goals. He racked up 62 points in 1987-1988, and also had 398 minutes in the penalty box that same year, the most he ever spent in the sin bin. 

During his stint in Detroit, he played with Joey Kocur and Darren McCarty. They were certainly well respected on the ice, feared, in fact, by many. Probert and McCarty both went down many wrong paths as the years progressed. Probert was suspended for a year 1n 1994, and had worn out his welcome in Detroit. He latched on with the Hawks, had one good season. He did not score in double figures in his last six seasons with the Hawks.

I am certain that most of his life he considered himself almost indestructible. On many occasions, he believed he was above the law. He rewarded police officials with great tickets on the many occasions when they arrested him. He was simply out of control most of the time, and frustrated many of the team officials who knew he had the talent, but knew that he could not live within the constraints of an NHL contract.

There will be other athletes that will follow his path in the future. Hopefully, someone will be able to slip them a copy of this book before they go completely off the rails.

James Hurst

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