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Canadian Press
1/19/2007 3:30:18 PM


Luc Robitaille predicts the tears might be flowing come Saturday night when his No. 20 goes up to the rafters at the Staples Center.

But on the eve of his jersey retirement with the Los Angeles Kings, the former all-star winger was all laughs as he fondly recalled 19 years in the NHL, 14 of them in L.A.

He vividly recalled his reaction after the Kings drafted him in 1984.

"I remember looking at a map and seeing how far L.A. was from where I was born," the Montreal native said Friday.

Barely a word of English in his arsenal, it didn't take long for Robitaille to know he was far away from home after joining the Kings in his rookie season in 1986-87 following three stellar years with the Quebec League's Hull Olympiques.

"I knew right away it wasn't Montreal. Like they say, we're not in Kansas anymore," the 40-year-old said with a hearty laugh.

A then-20-year-old Robitaille didn't let the Hollywood backdrop affect his play, scoring 45 goals and 84 points in 79 games - earning him the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year. But he couldn't help but notice his surreal surroundings.

"I remember one of the first celebrities I met, Chad Lowe came to see us after a game with his brother Rob," said Robitaille. "And Melissa Gilbert was with them. I was a big fan of Little House on the Prairie. She came in the dressing room with those guys, and she saw every guy walking around naked in the dressing room and I'll never forget, she stepped backward about five feet so fast.

"We were like, `Hey, that's the girl from Little House on the Prairie."'

Robitaille also had to put up with the antics in his own dressing room, veterans such as Larry Playfair, Bob Bourne and Mark Hardy playing practical jokes on him in the early years.

"Every day those guys would seem to find something to do to one of us young guys," said Robitaille. "I remember looking for my shoes once and they were stuck on the ceiling with cement glue. We couldn't pull them off the ceiling."

Then there's the old sewing of the sleeves on the jersey.

"You go to put on your jersey and you'd almost break your wrist," Robitaille said. "They'd cut your socks or nail your shoes to the ground. It was so funny, you don't really see that anymore. But in those days those guys would spend hours figuring out new tricks."

The biggest trick of all for Robitaille was making the NHL, let alone starring in it. He was a ninth-round pick of the Kings, all the way down to 171st overall. Today the draft is only seven rounds long.

"It's not like anybody told me I was a shoo-in, that's for sure," said Robitaille.

The knock on Robitaille was that he couldn't skate. Guess being the highest scoring left-winger in NHL history with 668 goals answered that one.

"Every day I was trying to prove people wrong," said Robitaille, now an executive with the Kings' parent company, Anschutz Entertainment Group.

The all-time franchise leader in goals scored (557), Robitaille will join Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Wayne Gretzky as the only Kings players to have their jersey retired.

Vachon and Gretzky, whose Phoenix Coyotes provide the opposition Saturday night, will take part in the ceremony as well as Kings alumni Bob Berry, Jimmy Carson, Mike Donnelly, Steve Duchesne, Daryl Evans, Stephane Fiset, Jim Fox, Garry Galley, Butch Goring, Bob Kudelski, Jari Kurri, Marty McSorley, Barry Melrose, Jay Miller, Bernie Nicholls, Larry Robinson, Jay Wells and the jokester Playfair.

"I think it's going to be a pretty emotional night," said Robitaille, who retired after last season. "I've put a lot into the game for the last 35 years of my life. It's really the ending of it. I'm looking forward to it because it's been such a great ride."

His next honour might be the Hall of Fame in a few years. He had 1,394 career points (668-726) in 1,431 regular-season games with Los Angeles, Detroit, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers. Robitaille also ranks second all-time in Kings history in games played (1,077), second in points (1,154) and fourth in assists (597).

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Robitaille was a extremely good player. I liked him a lot. Did a lot of good in his career for sure. I just wish he could have been with the Wings for longer than he was.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Robitaille honored by his Kingsdom


Doug Ward | NHL.com correspondent
Jan 30, 2007, 12:00 PM EST


The jersey retirement ceremony for Luc Robitaille before the Kings-Coyotes game Jan. 20 in Los Angeles ran about 30 minutes longer than planned, which should have surprised no one, given that the honoree’s 19-year NHL career lasted a full 19 years longer than expected.

Among those invited to take part in ceremony were NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Phoenix coach Wayne Gretzky, ESPN commentator Barry Melrose, and 19 of Robitaille’s former Kings teammates.

Displaying a remarkable knack for speaking extemporaneously, the charismatic Robitaille thanked his former teammates for attending by sharing a personal anecdote about each individual player.

Kobe Bryant and Mark Messier were unable to attend in person, but sent video messages congratulating Robitaille.

Robitaille, who played 14 of his 19 NHL seasons in Los Angeles, also thanked the fans who made a habit of serenading him with chants of “Luuuuc!” every time he touched the puck.

“I wasn’t the fastest player and I had flaws,” he said, “but I was a student of the game, and every day I was grateful to live my dream. I heard your chants every time I touched the puck or took a shot.”

In addition to seeing his No. 20 raised to the rafters by his two sons, Steven and Jesse, Robitaille received a contemporary painting of himself by noted sports artist Stephen Holland, a truck, and two snowmobiles.

Robitaille’s No. 20 jersey joined Marcel Dionne’s No. 16, Rogie Vachon’s No. 30, Dave Taylor’s No. 18, and Wayne Gretzky’s No. 99 as the only ones retired by the Kings since they entered the NHL in 1967.

Other numbers, of course, say more about Robitaille than the one he wore on his back: there were 668 career goals, a franchise record 557 of them coming in a Kings uniform.

Still, it was ironic that on a night dedicated to numbers, the recurring theme was an intangible: Robitaille’s passion. Perhaps Melrose, who coached Robitaille and the Kings to the 1993 Stanley Cup Finals, said it best: “When you went to see Luc play, you never felt cheated. Every time I watched Luc Robitaille play, he reminded me of why I love this game so much.”

Mired in last place in the Pacific and saddled with the second-worst record in the NHL, the Kings are clearly a team in transition. With players like Anze Kopitar, Alexander Frolov, Michael Cammelleri and Lubomir Visnovsky, they have the makings of a bright nucleus for the future, so things figure to get better.

In Mattias Norstrom and Rob Blake they have strong veteran leadership. Those players will need help, of course, if the team is to get back to the Finals for the first time since Robitaille helped them get there in ’93.

A frontline goaltender, something that has mostly eluded team since Vachon turned in his jersey in 1978, remains at the top of the wish list. Keeping young talent together is never a given, and attracting a quality goalie remains a daunting challenge. But if Robitaille jersey retirement ceremony is a true barometer of how the Kings treat their best people, it might not be so outlandish to believe they can do both.

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