Luc Robitaille: The King Of Kings – Part Two
November 9, 2009 3 Comments
The following is part two of an updated story written for the Online Kingdom back on April 14, 2006, a few days after Los Angeles Kings left wing Luc Robitaille announced his retirement as a player. It is being re-published in honor of his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 9, 2009. To read part one on FrozenRoyalty.net, click on Luc Robitaille: The King Of Kings – Part One.
Robitaille The Leader
I’ve always admired people who were gifted with the quality of leadership, and when leadership and raw athletic ability are found together in one person, it’s a rare combination to be sure. I think that one of the things that I appreciate most about Luc is that not only does he possess this combination, but that it is manifested in him in a unique way. Luc brings a contagious passion to the rink every day and to everything he does. I found that being around that kind of passion and desire made the game even more enjoyable for me and challenged me to give to my full capacity.
— Former Kings tough guy Stu Grimson
Some of the “tenets of leadership” are:
- Every person has leadership potential
- Leadership development is an ongoing process to maximize individual potential
- With leadership training comes the responsibility for action
- Leaders have a responsibility to nurture emerging leaders
Moreover, strong leaders exhibit such characteristics as:
- Dispensing hope
- Integrity of character
- Sharing of oneself
(Source: J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership)
Hockey fans often judge the leadership skills of a player on what they see and hear, which is not unexpected because they must rely on the media for their information about the teams and players. However, even though there is so much more information available today because of the Internet, fans still have very limited information about the intangible aspects of the game, and that includes the leadership qualities of a specific player.
To be sure, very, very few fans would consider Robitaille to be one of the Kings’ great leaders. Instead, they would likely point to Wayne Gretzky, Dave Taylor, Marcel Dionne, Bernie Nicholls and Mattias Norstrom.
Of course, Gretzky’s credentials are well-known and speak for themselves.
But when you look back at Robitaille’s career, one can only conclude that he too was a great leader.
Indeed, he understood that it was important to help his teammates, nurture and develop their leadership skills, give of himself whenever he could, and maintain his integrity.
To be sure, Robitaille always looked after the younger players on his team, doing for them what Dionne did for him when he invited Robitaille to live in his house during his rookie year.
“Since my first day with the Kings, Luc took me under his wing,” said former Kings and current Minnesota Wild center Eric Belanger. “He took care of me. He was a lot of help getting my career started on an easy note. I played with him my first eight or nine games. That was easy, too.”
“He makes it so much fun,” added Belanger. “Looking back at it, there’s a lot of things I’m going to keep for the rest of my career—things that he said. He told me to enjoy it because it goes fast. Six years later, I’m sitting here talking to you about Luc retiring.”
“He’s been a great leader in this game for a long time,” said former Kings and current Montreal Canadiens forward Michael Cammalleri. “He’s the highest-scoring left winger of all time. I’ve tried to learn a lot from him on and off the ice. I really appreciate his company as a teammate, as a friend, and as a person.”
“He’s given me a lot of insight into the little things on the ice,” added Cammalleri. “He knows the game so well. He’s scored so many goals in so many creative ways. He really has a sense of where to be on the ice and how to be opportunistic. He’d help me with little pointers. Little things like that have been very helpful.”
“Luc was an unbelievable teammate for young players,” said former Kings defenseman Darryl Sydor, who went on to win the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999, and with Tampa Bay in 2004. “When I joined the Kings as a rookie in 1992, he was always willing to talk with me and help me through different situations. He was always good about making sure the young guys felt like a part of the team. He’s just a class act.”
Even the older veterans praised Robitaille’s leadership and his value as a teammate.
“Hockey players often judge teammates beyond goals, assists and points, and as far as Luc goes, he was also an All-Star when it came to being a teammate,” said former Kings winger Nelson Emerson, who is currently in charge of player development for the Kings. “No one ever could say anything negative about Luc. And that is not ‘Lucky.’”
“Of all the people I played with, the person who most exemplified passion to me was Luc Robitaille,” said former Kings winger and current Pittsburgh Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato. “His love of the game has truly shown through the way he has played.”
“He was the ultimate teammate who always showed up to the rink with a smile on his face and couldn’t wait to get out on the ice,” added Granato. “His energy, passion and love for the game was contagious. I’m very grateful and thankful to have Luc as a friend and I enjoyed every season we played together.”
But as much as he was a leader on the ice, Robitaille did exactly the same thing off the ice.
“I think everybody knows your career doesn’t last forever,” said former Kings defenseman and team captain Mattias Norstrom. “He’s my best friend on this team. I’m going to miss him more away from the ice, in the locker room, and we’ve roomed together in previous years. We’ve spent a lot of time together on the road. I will miss that more than not seeing him on the ice.”
“I think the big thing about Luc Robitaille—the people who truly know him—is how good a guy he is,” said Cammalleri. “It’s hard to believe how a good a guy he really is. He’s a great person. He’s a great teammate, he’s a great father, husband and friend to us. I really admire him on and off the ice. Hopefully, he’ll stay involved with the organization.”
Unlike many of today’s athletes, especially the stars, Robitaille’s commitment to his teammates was never fake.
“As a player, the thing you cherish the most is your teammates,” said Robitaille. “You’ll never know until you’re done about how many friends you make and that’s what stays forever.”
Robitaille’s teammates certainly made sure he knew how they felt about him on the night he passed Dionne to become the Kings’ all-time leading goal scorer.
Robitaille was the last Kings’ player off the ice on January 19, 2006 at Staples Center, as the Kings won a barn burner against the Atlanta Thrashers, 8-6. And when he finally walked into the dressing room, his teammates, coaches and team staff all gave him a standing ovation that lasted for more than two minutes.
“This year, when I did the record and my teammates clapped for me after the game…they’ll never know what that meant to me,” Robitaille said, his voice cracking with emotion as he fought back tears.
“As teammates, as players, we know what we go through every day, day in and day out,” he added. “The mental game…sometimes you’re mad at the coach, you’re mad at this. But when your teammates respect you—that’s the memory you never forget.”
I admire the way Luc carries himself off the ice. He is the one guy who always finds time to stop and interact with people in general but kids in particular. It puts a smile on their faces. He shakes their hand and has fun with them. When I am asked about Luc Robitaille that is what I talk about.
— Adam Graves, who played with Robitaille with the New York Rangers
Robitaille quickly became a fan favorite for the same reasons his teammates admired him—he was always positive, always had a smile on his face, and he was always willing to go out of his way.
“I don’t take [the fans] for granted,” said Robitaille. “I know that I’ve always gone out of my way. I’ve never said no, although there were some times where I was in a hurry and had to walk away, for autographs. I’ve always spent time trying to develop hockey in this community and teach young kids that it is possible to do your dream, whatever it is. I’ve always taken pride in trying not to say no.”
And it was not just his interaction with the fans that made him so popular.
“I think the reason the fans took a liking to me…I mean obviously, it’s a great name,” he joked.
“I think they saw how much I love the game,” Robitaille explained. “I think people can feel that. You can’t fake that. I genuinely love this game. I still feel like I’m living a dream. There’s a little kid in me that every day, I played because I wanted to be better than the game before. I think people feel that. When you really care for something, people feel that. That’s probably the biggest thing.”
“Voice of the Kings” Bob Miller also said that Robitaille’s love for the game was something that the fans saw and really latched onto.
“Luc loved the game so much,” Miller explained. “He always had a smile on his face. He hated to lose, as all players do. But he loved to play the game. And that came through to the fans and to everybody else, his teammates.”
“The attitude, the way he played the game, the way he looked on the ice, how much he enjoyed it, and the fact that as a superstar—and he is a superstar,” Miller stressed. “He’s going to be in the Hockey Hall of Fame immediately upon becoming eligible. Yet, in spite of all that, he was accessible to the fans. I’ve seen him walk out of games and stand there in the parking lot, talking to fans, laughing and joking with them and signing autographs.”
Miller then pointed out that unlike many athletes, Robitaille’s skates never left the ice, so to speak.
“Unfortunately, in a lot of sports these days, the superstars don’t want to [sign autographs or interact with the fans],” Miller lamented. “They don’t want to be bothered. And I think the fans really love Luc because he’s a down-to-earth guy. He’s almost like one of them. He’s got great skills in the game he plays, but he’s like one of them and he always has time for them.”
“When you look at it, why can’t everybody be like that? Why don’t you have that attitude of just meet with the fans and enjoy them, and I think that’s what made Luc the most popular player ever to wear a Kings uniform.”
It was that down-to-earth style that influenced Robitaille to announce his retirement on April 11, 2006, about a week before the season ended.
“A few people have asked me why didn’t I mention it before,” said Robitaille. “This is because we still have a chance. We have to win our three games and if Edmonton lose its three games, we’re in. This might not be it this week. I know that’s our goal, to get into the playoffs.”
“But being realistic, with one game left to go here in LA, it was fair to tell my friends and the fans that it could be my last game in LA,” added Robitaille. “I felt I owed it to everybody who’s followed me and supported me throughout my career here.”
Robitaille also wanted his retirement to be a happy occasion, not a sad one. For everyone else involved, he wanted it to be a celebration, not a wake.
“He’s leaving with his head up high,” said Norstrom. “I don’t think there’s any regret on his part, so no, this is not a sad day.”
“To every single person who’s touched me in hockey, I really mean it from the bottom of my heart, thank you very, very much,” said Robitaille. “This is not a sad day. I’m going to move on. I’ve got other things I’m going to do.”
However, one person found it difficult to share Robitaille’s positive outlook on the day.
“It’s sad,” said Miller. “I’m thinking that it’s been 19-20 years that I’ve been able to say his name in a broadcast and describe what he was doing, either with the Kings or with other teams. It’s going to be strange when next season starts when he’s not in the league or in a Kings uniform.”
“I was thinking about how difficult it is for a guy who loves the game as much as Luc, or any of these athletes, to finally come to that day when you say ‘that’s it,’” added Miller. “It’s a tough decision. I think a lot of players fear that they’re making that decision too soon. That they’re still going to have something left, and that they’re going to miss it so much that they want to come back.”
But Robitaille was looking ahead, not wanting to take the time to reminisce too much yet.
“I’m certainly going to help my wife a little more with Shelter for Serenity, [now known as Echoes For Hope, a charitable foundatio],” added Robitaille. “This is more a celebration for me. Hopefully, there’s another 28 games left, but if its three games, it’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m going to enjoy every moment of it.”
Something Was Missing
As a player in the NHL, there is nothing better than winning the Stanley Cup. It was very special to be able to share the experience with a player like Luc. He has done so much for the sport of hockey, and after spending so many years in the league, and accomplishing so much, it was great to see Luc hoist the Cup at Joe Louis Arena.
— Brendan Shanahan, who played with Robitaille on the Red Wings 2002 Stanley Cup Championship team
Clearly, the one big disappointment of Robitaille’s career with the Kings was that he was unable to help bring a Stanley Cup Championship to the Kings and their long-suffering fans.
Even worse, he had to leave the Kings to win the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002. But what did he do when his day with the Cup came around? He brought it home to Los Angeles to share family and friends.
“I always said that I wanted to have a Kings’ [championship] ring,” Robitaille lamented. “That year, it was more of a thank you to a lot of friends who had seen me or been behind me throughout the years. I figured I’d bring it here and have a big party with them.”
Evidently, a whole lot of people came out of the woodwork when they found out Robitaille was bringing the Cup home.
“I had more friends at the time than I thought I knew,” he joked.
It was evident on Tuesday that he was disappointed that he was retiring without having helped bring a Stanley Cup Championship to the Kings. But he is looking forward to being a part of the organization when they finally do.
“I have always wished to be part of the first team to win the Stanley Cup in LA,” said Robitaille. “So that’s why when [Kings Governor] Tim Leiweke mentioned to me that he’d like me to stay involved in the organization—that’s one of the reasons I’d love to be part of the organization—to be a part of it the first time they win the Cup.”
But do not expect him to become the next Kings’ head coach.
“Definitely not coach! These guys work real hard,” Robitaille said, laughing. “I don’t know what i want to do. Definitely being involved in this organization. I feel like this is my family. It’s always been my team.”
“I think as a player, the first team you play for is always your team,” Robitaille added. “You can go somewhere else, but the first team you play for, that logo is on your heart. I have that logo on my heart.”
More than three years after retiring as a player, Robitaille, who played with the Penguins, New York Rangers and Detroit, in addition to his fourteen seasons with the Kings, is now the Kings’ President/Business Operations.
Is He A Superstar?
Consider that Robitaille is the NHL’s career leading scorer among left wings (668 goals and 1,394 points). He is an almost certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he would have had statues cast in his honor had he spent the bulk of such a career in, say, Detroit or Montreal.
— Jim Alexander in the Press-Enterprise
In addition to being the all-time leading scorer (goals and points) among left wings in the NHL, at the time of his retirement, Robitaille was:
- The leader in goals (63) and points (125) scored by an NHL left wing in one season
- Ranked tenth in all-time goals scored
- Ranked nineteenth all-time in overall scoring (points).
“I was fortunate to play with a number of amazing goal scorers in my career and Luc fits perfectly into this elite,” said former Kings goaltender Kelly Hrudey, who is now a color commentator for CBC in Canada. “Luc loves to score and not only from the usual scoring areas but any location on the ice.”
“He would practice endlessly trying to put the puck in the net from the corner and because of his persistence he would score the occasional goal from those tough angles,” added Hrudey. “The last name ‘Robitaille’ belongs besides that of Gretzky, [former New York Islanders legend Mike] Bossy and [former Chicago Blackhawks star left wing Bobby] Hull as one of the games all-time great goal scorers.”
And when you compare Robitaille’s achievements to equivalent statistics in the other major professional team sports (again, at the time of his retirement), it becomes quite clear that Robitaille deserves to be a part of some very elite company.
For instance, if Robitaille was a Major League Baseball player and was ranked tenth all-time in home runs, he would be tied with Reggie Jackson, and he would be just behind the likes of Harmon Killebrew, Mark McGwire, Frank Robinson and Sammy Sosa. He would be ahead of Ken Griffey, Mickey Mantle, Willie McCovey, Ernie Banks, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Eddie Murray, Stan Musial and Willie Stargell.
That is lofty company, indeed. But it gets better.
If Lucky Luc was tenth all-time in the National Basketball League in scoring, he would be tied with John Havlichek, ahead of Alex English, Reggie Miller, and Jerry West. He would also be ahead of Shaquille O’Neil, Elgin Baylor and Larry Bird, and he would be just behind the likes of Dominique Wilkins and Oscar Robertson.
And if Robitaille was tenth all-time in the National Football League in touchdowns, he would be ahead of players like Barry Sanders, Franco Harris, Terrell Owens, Tim Brown, Steve Largent, Randy Moss and Eric Dickerson.
But aside from people who follow the Kings closely, few would ever consider Robitaille to be a superstar athlete, even in other NHL cities.
The reason? Robitaille’s unassuming, down-to-earth approach.
“Never has there been a more humble record-holder in all of sports,” said former Kings center Jeremy Roenick. “Because of the way Luc treats people, you would never think of him as a guy who has accomplished so much. His special love for life and for his friends reflects the passion he has for the game of hockey.”
“His attitude towards others in the game almost supersedes his on-ice accomplishments that, as we all know, have been remarkable,” said Kings’ long-time radio play-by-play announcer Nick Nickson.
“Luc Robitaille deserves a special place in NHL history,” said former Kings defenseman and radio color commentator Brian Engblom, who is currently a hockey analyst for Versus. “His numbers speak for themselves but the imprint of his personality is so much bigger. His legacy in the NHL, in my mind, will always be the joy he brought to every shift of every game.”
“Some athletes create records that are merely numbers,” added Engblom. “Others live lives full of style and flair. They are special, from moment to moment, and they touch many people along the way. That’s Luc. The scoring records, for all of us, were just a bonus that happened along the way.”
And in a region that has seen star athletes come and go, Robitaille is truly one of the very best.
“[Robitaille is] one of the most popular and successful athletes in the history of sports in Los Angeles,” said Nickson.
To be sure, Robitaille can be mentioned in the same sentence as Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne and Wayne Gretzky. Robitaille clearly belongs in that elite group of the all-time greatest Los Angeles athletes.
Indeed, one of those athletes thinks very highly of Robitaille’s credentials.
“Luc had an outstanding NHL career,” said former Kings and Edmonton Oilers superstar Wayne Gretzky, who most recently was the head coach and part owner of the Phoenix Coyotes. “He was a great hockey player who loved to come to the rink each and every day. He helped make ice hockey a sport to do in the city of Los Angeles and he was able to fulfill his dream and win a Stanley Cup.”
The legacy is to all of his teammates, all of the young people, enjoy this while you have the opportunity because someday you’re going to look back and ask ‘why didn’t I enjoy it more.’ And that’s when you’ll be on the outside looking in.
— Bob Miller
Indeed, Robitaille’s legacy mirrors his down-to-earth approach to the game, to the fans, to the community, and to life.
“He leaves a legacy where you should enjoy what you’re doing, do it to the fullest and to the best of your ability, and the bottom line: just enjoy it,” said Miller. “Enjoy a career that’s not going to last your whole life, unlike some other professions. Here is a profession where you know the day is going to come when you’ve got to say ‘I think I’m through.’”
“Off the ice, Luc personifies the word ‘class,’” said former Kings right wing and current television color commentator Jim Fox. “How he treats people shows his class. Even as he grew into a Hall-of-Fame hockey player, he still maintained the same attitude. He treats everyone with respect and class and, as an added bonus, he does it with a big smile.”
“Luc continues to reach out to the fans and the community,” said former Kings left wing Daryl Evans, now the Kings radio color commentator. “[He is] truly a great role model both on and off the ice for future hockey players.”
For what he has accomplished in his NHL career, and especially in his time with the Kings, Luc Robitaille has reached a level of achievement—a level of greatness—that only the best of the elite have ever reached. Equally important are his stellar contributions off the ice, to his team, to his fans and to his community.
And as we all prepared for the night when Robitaille would play in his final home game for the Kings when the fans would pour their love and appreciation for him onto the ice, perhaps Nickson summed it all up best.
“The puck is dropped and the game begins. The buzzer sounds and the game ends. And so it goes for the players. We just hate to see the great ones go.”
Keith Korneluk and Chris Kaliszewski have shot a new episode of Overtime by KingCast as a tribute to Robitaille. You can watch Episode 25: A Tribute To Luc right here:
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