Former Flames recall Probert

WES GILBERTSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:01 PM ET

He was undoubtedly one of the toughest customers to ever lace up skates.

Off the ice, though, enforcer Bob Probert — whose death rocked the hockey world Monday — will be remembered as a “gentle giant” and a “pure gentleman.”

“Just a big teddy bear,” recalled former Flame Doug Gilmour, who was teammates with Probert for two seasons in Chicago. “Off the ice, he was soft-spoken, laughed, smiled. But when he put a helmet on and would go on the ice, he was a fierce competitor.

“When you were playing against him, you’re intimidated. Then you get to meet him in person — our familes hung around each other in Chicago as neighbours — and you get to see another side. I think everybody would say the same thing — he’s a gentle giant. He cared about people. He cared about his team and, obviously, his family.

“We all loved him.”

Probert died Monday of an apparent heart attack after collapsing on a boat on Lake St. Clair, just outside of Windsor, Ont. He was 45.

Probert is survived by his wife and four children. He was also being mourned Monday by the hundreds of players he skated alongside during his 16-year NHL career.

Flames head coach Brent Sutter was suiting up in the Windy City when Probert joined the Blackhawks in 1995 and has nothing but positive things to say about the notorious pugilist.

“Probie is such a good-hearted man. He cared very deeply about his other teammates and about the team he played for,” Sutter said. “Off the ice, Probie was a big, soft guy. But when he put his skates on, he played for keeps. Everyone knew he was as tough as they came and he’d go to war every night, and he loved that — he loved that agressor style in the game.

“But off the ice, he was just a pure gentleman.”

The former Detroit Red Wings and Blackhawks bruiser ranks fifth on the NHL’s all-time list with 3,300 penalty minutes in 935 big-league outings.

Probert also notched 163 goals and added 221 assists, although he’s best known for his work with his fists.

Former Flames sparkplug Theo Fleury recalls slashing the rugged winger and refers to the second part of the story as a “humbling experience.”

“You ask every single tough guy that’s ever played this game in the post-Bob Probert era, and they’ll all say that Bob was their idol,” Fleury said. “He was somebody that every young tough guy coming into the NHL aspired to be — the heavyweight champion.”

A fan favourite, Probert had his share of problems away from the rink.

In 1989, he was arrested smuggling cocaine across the Canada-U.S. border, eventually sentenced to spend three months in jail and unable to travel to road games on Canadian soil for two seasons.

He was under the influence of alcohol and had traces of cocaine in his system when he crashed his motorcycle in 1994. Ten years later, he was subdued with a Taser and stun guns after an altercation. The following year, he was arrested at home for assaulting a police officer.

His battles with drugs and alcohol were well-documented.

“Did his past lifestyle catch up to him? We don’t know,” Sutter said. “But from what I know of Bob Probert as a teammate and a friend and from playing with him, he was a tremendously caring guy for everybody inside that room, and everybody was friends with him.

“You knew when Probie was in the room. His presence was felt by everyone.”

wes.gilbertson@sunmedia.ca


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