Robitaille fought to prove the skeptics wrong
Whoever wrote the script summarizing Luc Robitaille’s career for the highlight film that accompanied his hockey Hall of Fame induction Monday got it wrong.
“All Luc Robitaille did was score goals,” the narrator intoned, but that wasn’t true.
Robitaille scored a lot of goals -- 668 of them. And 1,394 points, the most ever by a left wing in NHL history.
But that’s no more a description of Robitaille than calling Wayne Gretzky a hockey player.
Robitaille was the heart of the Kings through good times and bad, for 14 of his 19 NHL seasons. From the day they drafted him as a throwaway, ninth-round pick in 1984 until he retired 3 1/2 years ago, he personified everything good about this game and the undying power of hope backed by tireless effort.
Instead of listening to the skeptics who said -- with reason -- that he was too slow to play in the NHL, he clung to the hope that practice and workouts would bring to his legs the vigor his mind already possessed. He chose to believe the one scout who saw something in him, the late Alex Smart.
“I was on one list. There was one person that believed in me,” Robitaille said. “Thank you for giving me a great life.”
No one gave him anything he didn’t work for. He earned the right to be there Monday, a gem in a jewel box of an induction class filled out by former players Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Steve Yzerman and New Jersey Devils executive Lou Lamoriello.
“I’ve known Luc since he was 17, with the Hull Olympiques,” Gretzky said as he traveled the red carpet before the ceremony.
“I’ve said this before: with ‘Rocket’ Richard, Mike Bossy, Guy Lafleur and Mario Lemieux, there’s nobody who wanted to score more desperately than Luc Robitaille. He made himself a Hall of Famer.”
Those are strong words coming from the game’s most prolific scorer -- and echoed by Marcel Dionne, who retired as the third-highest scorer in NHL history.
“You win the Stanley Cup, but at the end of the day this is the greatest reward you can have,” Dionne said. “And his numbers -- he’s a real Hall of Famer, this guy.”
Unlike Hull and Yzerman, who choked up during their speeches, Robitaille remained composed. But his father, Claude, let big tears roll down his face as the second of his three children received the game’s highest honor.
“Thank you mom and dad,” said Robitaille, who switched between his native French and charmingly accented English.
“Don’t cry, dad,” he added. “You’re going to make me cry.”
He sailed through a series of heartfelt thank-yous in which he singled out Marcel and Carol Dionne, who housed and fed him during his rookie season, as well as cancer-stricken Pat Burns, his junior coach. Burns, he said, “taught us how to be men and to fight, and I know you’re fighting and we all know you’re fighting.”
He thanked his family, a slew of former teammates and the fans who watched him grow from a gawky kid into an admirable player, person, husband and generous spirit.
“I want to thank all the fans, especially the fans in L.A.,” he said. “All my career they stuck by me.”
He didn’t forget Detroit Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch “for capping my career and giving me a chance to win the Stanley Cup” in 2002. And he had special praise for former Kings owner Bruce McNall, whom he supported while McNall served a prison term for bank fraud.
“You brought another level to the game and made us believe that hockey could be played in Southern California,” he said. “I want to thank you for giving me a chance to play with my favorite of all time, Wayne Gretzky.”
Also on his list were current owner Phil Anschutz and Kings governor Tim Leiweke, who promised Robitaille would end his career in Los Angeles. Leiweke later appointed him the club’s president of business operations, balancing the personnel side of the operation headed by Dean Lombardi.
“With the help of Dean we will have the Stanley Cup in Los Angeles soon, I can feel it,” Robitaille said.
The other inductees each hoisted the Cup at least once. Leetch won it in 1994 with the New York Rangers and was voted the Conn Smythe trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. Hull won it with Dallas and Detroit, the second time with Robitaille and Yzerman as his teammates. Yzerman won it three times, as has Lamoriello.
Hull probably hit the most humorous notes. He mentioned his father, Bobby, who preceded him into the Hall. “You gave me giant footsteps to follow and told me to speak my mind,” said Brett, who succeeded on both counts.
He also thanked his son, Jude, with mock puzzlement.
“Between your great-uncle Dennis, your grandpa, and me there’s 1,654 goals -- and you’re a goalie,” he said, drawing laughs from the crowd.
It was a night of celebration, but not only of long-ago goals. Robitaille, Yzerman and Hull traded their jerseys for business suits as executives of the Kings, Red Wings and Dallas Stars, respectively, leaving the game in hands that are good and steady.