Robert Alan Probert was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who played in position of left winger. He played for Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks of National Hockey League. He was elected to the 1987–88 Campbell Conference all-star team. Probert was more recognised as a fighter and enforcer in the game who gained repute for his long-time fights and brawls while playing for both the teams. Probert and his Detroit Red Wings teammate Joey Kocur were tagged as ‘the Bruise Brothers’ for their aggressive playing style. Apart from his aggressiveness in the game that saw him build up 3,300 penalty minutes in 935 games, the left winger also garnered 163 goals and 221 assists. Probert also had instances of drug and alcohol abuse and faced legal issues including arrests that often marred his career. Post retirement from ice hockey, Probert served as a Blackhawks radio analyst for a brief period. He died of a heart attack at 45 years of age.
Childhood & Early Life
Robert Alan Probert was born in Windsor, Ontario, Canada on June 5, 1965. His father was a cop.
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Ice hockey Career
Probert played with Brantford Alexanders of the Ontario Hockey League and spent his 1984–85 season with OHL’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Hamilton Steelhawks. Meanwhile during the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, Probert was selected by Detroit Red Wings as fourth pick in third round.
He garnered third position in penalty minutes in Red Wings during 1985–1986 season and accumulated 221 penalty minutes in the season that followed.
He amassed league-leading 398 penalty minutes in 1987–1988 season marking 6th highest single season total in the history of NFL NHL and thus bolstering his position as a noted enforcer. He thrived in the season accumulating 62 points and tying in third position in the team, contributing maximum points in playoff run of the team; and playing in his only NHL All-Star Game.
His career took a back seat in 1989 after 14 grams of cocaine were found in his underpants by the U.S. Customs agents at the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel while he was crossing the Detroit-Windsor border. He was arrested and had to serve 3 months in a Minnesota federal prison and 3 months in a halfway house while the NHL suspended him indefinitely. The suspension was lifted following his prison term. Upon his return to the game, Probert served as one of the alternate captains of the Red Wings for a brief period.
He again fell on wrong side of law on July 15, 1994 when he faced drunk-driving charges after hitting a car in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan with his motorcycle. Blood alcohol level of Probert was found to be around triple the legal limit. During this time, Probert was ruled as an unrestricted free agent. The Red Wings announced on July 19 that year that they were not offering a contract to Probert. While Probert spent time in rehab, the Chicago Blackhawks signed him on July 23, 1994.
On February 13, 1999, while playing for Chicago Blackhawks, he netted the final NHL goal at the historic building of Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. Although his tenure with Chicago Blackhawks was not as impressive compared to that with Red Wings, Probert caught attention for his physical aggressiveness and long-term rivalries with several other enforcers in the game. He also injured himself several times during his career.
Some of the many long-standing rivalries of Probert include that with Wendel Clark of the Toronto Maple Leaf; with Vancouver Canucks’ Craig Coxe during the mid-1980s; and with Tie Domi who played for Toronto Maple Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and New York Rangers. Two of his memorable fights include with Kocur, then playing with New York Rangers, on December 17, 1993; and with Marty McSorley of the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 4, 1994.
The Chicago Blackhawks put him on waivers following the 2001-02 season. Later on November 16, 2002, he chose to retire “unofficially” so as to work with radio broadcasting team of Blackhawks. He wrapped his on-field career with 3,300 penalty minutes finishing 4th in the all-time list of NHL.
He had a brief stint with Blackhawks radio team and as reported in February 2003, Probert had to visit rehab again. He officially announced his retirement in the 2003 off-season.
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Probert backed young hockey players in the community, attended charity games, managed youth clinics and spoke at conventions.
He made cameo appearance in Mike Myers’ 2008 film ‘The Love Guru’. The following year he took part in CBC Television aired figure skating reality program ‘Battle of the Blades’ pairing with professional female figure skater Kristina Lenko.
He started working on his memoir with Canadian author Kirstie McLellan Day. Following his death, his wife aided in completing the book which was released by HarperCollins Canada on October 26, 2010 titled ‘Tough Guy: My Life on the Edge’.
He along with Kocur remained subjects of the September 9, 2011 published book ‘Bruise Brothers’ by Bob Duff. The 2019 book of Scoop Malinowski on Probert titled ‘Facing Bob Probert: Portrait of a Hockey Legend’ includes interviews of several ice hockey players on their memories of playing against Probert.
Family & Personal Life
Probert was married to Dani Parkinson from July 1, 1993 till his death. Together they had four children.
He continued to have brushes with the law at different points of time including facing arrests on June 4, 2004 and July 1, 2005 on different charges.
On July 5, 2010, Probert succumbed to a heart attack. He suffered from severe chest pain and eventually collapsed while boating with his children and parents-in-law on Lake St. Clair. He was taken to the Metropolitan Campus of Windsor Regional Hospital where efforts to revive him failed. His death was declared later that afternoon.
His funeral services held in Windsor, Ontario on July 9, 2010 was attended by several imminent personalities of ice-hockey including his former teammates and opponents.
On September 25, 2010, his family announced that they would donate the player’s brain to the Sports Legacy Institute. In February the following year, the researchers at the Boston University announced that evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy was found in Probert's brain. Such findings were revealed officially by The New York Times and The Globe and Mail in Toronto on March 2, 2011.
Ashes of the player were spread by his family on April 9, 2017 in the penalty box of Red Wings at the last game of the now defunct Joe Louis Arena located in Downtown Detroit.