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Bob Probert; troubled tough guy had long career in NHL; at 45

Bob Probert (left) often had the upper hand in fights. In 2001, he and Bruin Andrei Nazarov tangled, to the delight of a fan. Bob Probert (left) often had the upper hand in fights. In 2001, he and Bruin Andrei Nazarov tangled, to the delight of a fan. (Fred Jewell/Associated Press/File)
From Wire And Staff Reports / July 6, 2010

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DETROIT — Retired hockey enforcer Bob Probert, as adept with his fists as with a stick in a 16-season career with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks, died yesterday after suffering chest pains while boating with his family. He was 45.

“Bob lost the fight of his life this afternoon,’’ said Mr. Probert’s father-in-law, Dan Parkinson, a police officer who performed CPR before Mr. Probert was rushed to Ontario’s Windsor Regional Medical Center.

Mr. Probert was on a boat in Lake St. Clair with his wife, children, and in-laws when he “developed severe chest pains’’ yesterday, family friend Rich Rogow said.

“This is a tragedy for the family,’’ Parkinson said. “We ask that you respect their privacy at this time.’’

Mr. Probert, who struggled to overcome drinking problems during his time in the NHL, played for the Red Wings in 1985-1994 and for the Blackhawks in 1995-2002.

“Bob was a part of our very first NHL Draft class that also included Steve Yzerman, Joe Kocur, Petr Klima, and Stu Grimson,’’ Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch said in a statement. “Bob was always there for his teammates and was one of the toughest men to ever play in the NHL.

“He also was one of the kindest, most colorful, and beloved players Detroit has ever known.’’

John McDonough, Blackhawks president, said the organization’s “thoughts and prayers are with the entire Probert family.’’

“Bob will always be a member of the Blackhawks family, and his memory will live on through our fans,’’ McDonough said in a statement.

The Windsor native had 384 points (163 goals, 221 assists) in 935 career regular-season games with Detroit and Chicago. His 3,300 career penalty minutes rank sixth in NHL history.

When Bruin Milan Lucic, no slouch at the fistic aspect of hockey, was a 19-year-old rookie in 2007, he told the Globe he studied YouTube videos of Mr. Probert’s fights.

“I never saw Probert fight in person,’’ the admiring Lucic said. “He was just a killer.’’

Also in 2007, Shawn Thornton, the Bruins’ resident enforcer, spoke glowingly of Mr. Probert, his former teammate in Chicago.

“I have to say . . . it was a pleasure to room with Bob Probert,’’ Thornton told the Globe. “I mean, my years with Toronto, I roomed sometimes with [elite scorer] Mats Sundin — great guy. But when Probie walked in my room, I was there with the clicker, flipping through the channels, and it was like, ‘Whoa, that’s Bob Probert.’ Just one of the nicest guys I ever played with, too.’’

Mr. Probert was charged several times with driving under the influence while playing for Detroit. He also was caught trying to carry cocaine from Canada into the United States in 1989 and served a six-month federal prison sentence.

“Bob was a guy that started as a strictly tough guy but made himself a player,’’ Wendel Clark, a former Toronto enforcer, told the Canadian Press. “Off the ice, everything was a whole different story. He was one of the good guys and he’d do anything for anybody.’’

The Blackhawks honored Mr. Probert with a Bob Probert Heritage Night on Feb. 22, 2009, at the United Center, and he dropped the ceremonial puck before Game 3 of the 2009 Western Conference Final between Detroit and Chicago.

Mr. Probert leaves his wife and four children.

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