Robert A. Probert (June 5, 1965 – July 5, 2010) was a Canadian professional ice hockey forward. Probert played for the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. While a successful player by some measures, including being voted to the 87–88 Campbell Conference all-star team, Probert was best known for his activities as a fighter and enforcer. Probert was also known for his off-ice antics and legal problems, as well as being one half of the "Bruise Brothers" with then-Red Wing teammate Joe "Joey" Kocur, during the late 80s and early 90s.
Prior to playing with the Detroit Red Wings, Probert was with the Brantford Alexanders of the Ontario Hockey League. After being drafted, he spent one more season with the Alexanders before spending his 1984–85 season with both the Hamilton Steelhawks and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL
Detroit Red Wings (1985 — 1994)
Probert was drafted as the 4th pick in the third round (46th overall) in the 1983 NHL Entry Draft, in which the Red Wings also selected Kocur and Steve Yzerman.
During the 1985–86 and 1986–87 seasons, Probert spent the majority of his time with the Red Wings while occasionally playing for their minor league affiliate at the time, the Adirondack Red Wings of the American Hockey League. While he wasn't the most prolific pointmaker in the 1985–86 season, he finished third on the team in penalty minutes behind Kocur and Randy Ladouceur, both of whom played more regular season games than Probert. In the 1986–87 season, Probert accumulated only 24 points, but amassed 221 penalty minutes.
The 1987–88 season saw Probert develop his fighting abilities and reputation as a tough guy with 398 penalty minutes. He also tied for third on the team in points with 62 (Petr Klima also had 62 points). That season, Probert played in his first (and only) NHL All-Star Game, and he contributed the most points during the Red Wings' playoff run, in which Yzerman missed all but the final three games with a knee injury.
Probert's career hit a snag in 1989 when he was arrested for cocaine possession while crossing the Detroit-Windsor border. He served three months in a federal prison in Minnesota, three more months in a halfway house, and was indefinitely suspended from the NHL. The NHL lifted the suspension at the conclusion of his prison term.
When Probert returned to the Red Wings, he was temporarily one of the alternate Captains of the team along with Gerard Gallant. While his penalty minutes remained high, he also averaged 40 points a season. During his last season with the Red Wings, he accumulated 17 points for the team.
At this time, Probert once again got into trouble with the law. On July 15, 1994, he suffered minor injuries when he crashed his motorcycle into a car in West Bloomfield Township, Michigan. Police determined that his blood alcohol level was approximately triple the legal limit, and that there were also trace amounts of cocaine in his system. At the time of the accident, Probert had been ruled an unrestricted free agent. On July 19, the Red Wings announced that they would not offer him a contract. "This is the end," said senior vice-president Jim Devellano. "[In] my 12 years with the organization ... we've never spent more time on one player and his problems than we have on Probert."
Chicago Blackhawks (1994 – 2002)
Probert's first season with the Blackhawks was the last in which he accumulated over 40 points in a season. From then on, his points and penalty minutes gradually decreased. While he never returned to the levels of point production he achieved with the Red Wings, he remained a physical force on the ice and continued many long-term rivalries with other enforcers.
Probert also sustained various injuries during his time with the Blackhawks, most notably a torn rotator cuff injury which caused him to miss most of the 1997–98 season. One of the more noteworthy occurrences of his career with Chicago is that he scored the final NHL goal at the historic Maple Leaf Gardens on February 13, 1999.
He saw it as his job to protect his teammates, especially Detroit captain Steve Yzerman. In a recent news story, he recalled a time that he sucker-punched enforcer Kevin Maguire of the Buffalo Sabres after Maguire pummelled Yzerman.
Some significant tilts in Probert's career include:
Two long fights with Craig Coxe of the Vancouver Canucks in the mid-1980s.
A career-spanning series of battles with Tie Domi of the New York Rangers, Winnipeg Jets, and Toronto Maple Leafs. One of Probert's memorable confrontations was also the genesis of Tie Domi's now-infamous belt gesture, where he guestured to the crowd as if he had a heavyweight title belt around his waist. Fights afterwards between Domi and Probert were seen in the eyes of many as Probert "getting his title back" from Domi.
A career-spanning series of fights with longtime enforcer Stu Grimson, including a fight in December 1993 when the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim made their first visit ever to Detroit.
A memorable fight on December 17, 1993 with former teammate Joey Kocur of the Rangers, during a brawl involving several players from both teams. Probert and Kocur had grabbed the nearest opposing player without realizing who it was, and continued trading punches even after they identified each other. Later on in Probert's career, he would face Kocur a couple more times when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks.
A fight on February 4, 1994, against Marty McSorley, then of the Pittsburgh Penguins, lasting nearly 100 seconds.
After the 2001–02 season, Probert was placed on waivers by the Blackhawks. Because he was not picked up by another team, he was advised that his role with the Blackhawks would be limited, or even relegated to playing in the minor leagues again. On November 16, 2002, Probert opted to "unofficially" retire so that he could join the Blackhawks radio broadcasting team. He had finished fourth on the NHL's all-time list with 3,300 penalty minutes.
His stint with the Blackhawks radio team did not last long. In February 2003, it was reported that Probert went back to rehab. During the 2002–03 offseason, Probert formally announced his retirement.
On July 5, 2010, Probert was pronounced dead after being rushed to the hospital with no vital signs after collapsing on a boat on Lake St. Clair, Ontario, early news sources are reporting. Cause of death is as yet unknown.