The late tough guy Bob Probert had 222 fist fights in his 16 NHL seasons, the heavyweight champ of his era, but almost 10 years after he retired he put up his dukes for what was probably the last time in his life, the honoured recipient an Ottawa appliances consultant for Sears who, in a moment of insanity, said to Probert: “Okay, let’s get it on, let’s go.”
Bob Probert, 6-foot-3, 225 pounds of granite.
Evan Malamud, 5-foot-9, 180 pounds of goo.
Well, okay, if not exactly goo, you know what I mean.
Malamud’s moment of infamy came last November, the Hall of Fame game at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto.
He was in the stands with his wife Melanie.
“I saw that Bob Probert was a couple of rows in front of me,” says Malamud, 29.
He went down to where Probert was sitting.
“I shook his hand and patted him on his arm, which was as solid as a rock. Then I crouched down and started talking to him. We chatted for a bit and I was surprised to find that he was a really nice guy.
“Luc Robitaille was on the ice playing and I said to Probert ‘He looks a little frail, you could probably knock him out with one check.’ He said ‘I could have done that to him anytime.’
“I asked him if he missed being out there on the ice. He said he was on the ice recently, that Battle Of The Blades on the CBC.
“I said ‘Oh, the figure skating thing.’ He gave me a look, he didn’t smile. I said ‘Enough said.’ ”
Well, not quite enough said.
Malamud decided to cultivate his own mythology.
Or should that be cultivate his own death.
“I challenged him to a fight. I knew he was probably the toughest guy in the history of the NHL, but I thought ‘Hey, this will make a great story.’ ”
Definitely a great obituary.
“I said ‘Okay, let’s get it on, let’s go.’ I pretended I was serious. He had this little smile and said ‘Sure.’ But then his face went all real serious, like dead pan, and he stood up.
“I had my fists up, and he put his fists up, too. I know I had a scared look on my face. He was as tall as a tree compared to me, and I had images of Probert-Domi going through my mind.
“As this happened, the people around us started to stare. They must have thought ‘Oh, oh, that’s Bob Probert and he’s about to get into a fight in the stands with some little twerp who wants to take him on.’
“A couple of people snapped photographs. I thought someone was going to call security.”
Malamud — now thinking that Probert figured he was a lunatic who’d charmed him only to set up fighting him — suddenly tried to defuse with humour any homicidal intentions that might have been in Probert’s head.
“I said ‘Is it okay of my wife snaps a picture of my death? You know, for insurance purposes.’ He laughed and said ‘Okay, let’s take a picture.’ I heard a sigh of relief from about 20 people sitting near us. I think about 10 other fans took a picture of us. Let me tell you, it was an intense moment.”
But Malamud wasn’t done.
“I offered to buy him a beer. He said ‘No, no, I don’t drink.’ After the game, I noticed him in the corridor. There were fans all around, other former players getting autographs and pictures, but he was all alone, ignored.
“When I heard he’d died, it saddened me. He was a nice guy.
“He turned his life around from alcohol and drugs, and it wasn’t easy for him. He did what a lot of people wouldn’t have been be able to do. That tells you what strength of character Bob Probert had. I’m glad that I had the chance to meet him.”
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