WINDSOR, Ont. – Former NHL tough guy Bob Probert, who played for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks and struggled to overcome drinking problems, has died. He was 45.
Probert died after collapsing with severe chest pains while enjoying an afternoon of boating with his family. He was taken to hospital around 2 p.m. ET on Monday, according to family friend Rick Rogow.
“The hospital did everything it possibly could,” Rogow told reporters at Windsor Regional Hospital.
“It’s a sad day,” he added.
Probert was spending the day with his family on Lake St. Clair in the Windsor area. His father-in-law Dan Parkinson, a police officer who was on the boat, attempted to revive Probert using CPR.
“This is a tragedy for the family,” said Parkinson. “We ask that you respect their privacy at this time. This was totally unexpected. Bob lost the fight of his life this afternoon.”
Probert played for the Red Wings from 1985 to 1994, and for the Blackhawks from 1995 to 2002. He was considered one of the league’s all-time great enforcers.
“He was always a competitor in that Detroit-Toronto rivalry in that old Chuck Norris Division we played in,” said former NHL forward and tough guy Wendel Clark.
Over 16 NHL seasons, Probert recorded 384 points (163 goals, 221 assists) in 935 regular-season games. His career total of 3,300 penalty minutes is fifth on the NHL’s all-time list.
“Bob was a guy that started as a strictly tough guy but made himself a player,” said Clark. “He played more than just a tough guy role. He had some goals and played a regular shift.”
Probert had 48 points (16-32) and 274 penalty minutes in 81 career playoff games. Probert and Clark played briefly together in Chicago.
“Off the ice, he was a guy everybody got along great with,” said Clark. “He always brought everybody together. He was one of the good guys.”
Clark added that Probert was one of the most feared guys in the league.
“He had the reputation because of his size,” said Clark. “Definitely every new young guy coming along was going to say ‘That’s the guy.’ He definitely stood the test of time because of how much he battled.”
Probert also battled alcohol problems throughout his career and had several brushes with the law. He served a three-month prison term after authorities caught him trying to sneak cocaine across the border at the Windsor-Detroit tunnel in March 1989.
He was charged with impaired driving several times during his time with the Red Wings. Probert was placed on inactive status for the 1994-95 season after he was involved in a motorcycle accident and tests showed alcohol and cocaine in his system.
After his retirement, Probert participated in several local charity hockey tournaments in his native Windsor, Ont.
He also appeared on the CBC reality series “Battle of the Blades” last year. Probert and figure skating partner Kristina Lenko were the first pair voted off.
The Blackhawks issued a statement Monday evening.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Probert family during this difficult time,” said Blackhawks president John McDonough. “Bob will always be a member of the Blackhawks family and his memory will live on through our fans.”
Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Ilitch also issued a statement.
“Bob was a part of our very first NHL draft class that also included Steve Yzerman, Joe Kocur, Petr Klima and Stu Grimson. 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 colourful, and beloved players Detroit has ever known. We are very saddened by his passing and our thoughts and prayers go out to Bob’s family.”
Former teammate Joe Kocur said Probert was one of the toughest players in the game.
“My favourite memory of Bob would be sitting down before a game, going over the opposing lineup and picking and choosing who would go first and if the goalie would be safe or not,” Kocur said in a statement. “It was great to be able to go out on the ice knowing that he had my back and I had his.
“He was like the brother I never had. My prayers go out to his family.”
The Blackhawks honoured Probert with a Bob Probert Heritage Night on Feb. 22, 2009, at the United Center. He dropped the ceremonial puck before Game 3 of the 2009 Western Conference final between Detroit and Chicago.
Funeral arrangements have not been made. Probert is survived by his wife and four children.
With files from The Associated Press