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MIKE DOWNEY

He's Better Than Lucky at Home

June 02, 1993|MIKE DOWNEY

MONTREAL — The least the Los Angeles Kings could do after making Madeleine Robitaille suffer through one of the longest nights of her life was to make sure she had a ticket to Tuesday night's game. Her son, Luc, left 16 tickets at the Montreal Forum for friends and loved ones, this being a night that Lucky the local boy had been waiting for all of his life.

This was his first Stanley Cup championship series game. And his team's first.

And he scored twice.

And Lucky's lady was there to see it.

Five nights before, Madame Robitaille was at home in Montreal with her television tuned to French-language Channel 4 when she simply couldn't stand it any more. A hockey game in California between her son's team and the Toronto Maple Leafs had spilled over into sudden-death overtime. If Los Angeles lost, Lucky wouldn't be coming home.

Madeleine left the room. Her husband, Claude, asked: "Where are you going?" She was going into the powder room, but not to powder her nose. Madeleine reached to the sink and turned on the water from the faucet, full blast, to drown out the sound from the TV. Then she switched on the electric fan. Then she started humming so she couldn't hear.

Wayne Gretzky scored. And then the Kings traveled back to Toronto to win Game 7. And as a result, Luc Robitaille, hockey's highest-scoring left wing of all time, who as a child looked upon Montreal's Forum not as a hockey rink but as a sacred shrine, who as a teen-ager was crushed when he sat in these stands waiting in vain to be chosen by the Canadiens in the NHL draft, would be homeward bound.

This one would be different from his previous homecomings. Lucky was here Feb. 3 for a Kings' game. They got creamed, 7-2. He stuck around for the NHL All-Star game three days later. Sixteen goals were scored--but Luc didn't have so much as a cool hand in one of them. It meant so much to Robitaille to do his best here--and he didn't.

So, hours before Tuesday's Kings-Canadiens game, there he sat, shoulder to shoulder with teammate Marc Potvin, outside the visitors' dressing room, head shaking, voice quaking, saying: "This place is so important to me. I just have to have a good game. I just have to."

And did he?

He did.

It was a game Luc Robitaille will do more than remember. It was a game he will savor. It was a game that will have his mom clipping this morning's Montreal Gazette so she can tape the photographs and articles into a scrapbook. It was a game that the Kings won, 4-1, with a little bit of everything--two Lucky goals, one incredibly unlucky goal scored by Wrong Way Wayne Gretzky (oh, the kidding he took) and an empty-netter from a crazy angle that Wayne tacked on to the end of the story like an exclamation point.

You say Luc played well?

"I had to," he said later. "The bonus money for winning the Stanley Cup is bigger than for losing. I need it because of all the ticket money I'm spending."

No nervous look in his eyes now. No trembling voice. A gleam. A grin. This was a vive-la-Lucky occasion here in Quebec. The 'omeboy came 'ome.

The year was 1984 when young Lucky brought a buddy to this Forum to eavesdrop on the NHL draft as names were claimed, round by round. He wore a polo shirt and slacks instead of a shirt and tie. Unlike some other promising prospects, Robitaille did not want to be recognized in case he was not drafted very high. But never did it occur to him that 170 players would be chosen ahead of him.

He finally told his friend, "Let's go." They stood to leave. But suddenly the Kings, whose search for players included a fourth-round draft pick named Tom Glavine who also supposedly had some ability in pitching a baseball, called out: "Robitaille, Luc."

So excited was he that Robitaille rushed to the floor where the draft executives stood and thrust out a handshake toward General Manager Rogie Vachon of the Kings, who had absolutely no idea who this casually dressed young interloper was. Vachon had never seen him play. A King scout, Alex Smart, had kept an eye on him.

Good eye. In the NHL, Robitaille has had seven consecutive 40-goal seasons. He scored more goals this season (63) than any left wing ever--even one of his boyhood idols, Steve Shutt, who attended Tuesday's game.

"This morning I saw that Henri Richard and Steve Shutt and Maurice Richard, and all these heroes of mine would be coming to the game, and I said, 'I've got to play hard tonight. I've got to,' " Robitaille said. "I would never want these guys to say, 'This guy can't play,' or, 'This guy doesn't work hard.'

"I remember seeing how big the Forum was as a kid--the pictures on the wall, the banners. This was it. This was the place. I remember once when I was 8 years old having a chance to play here. It was like I was in Heaven."

Years later, when his coach, Robbie Ftorek, left him out of a power-play attack in a game against his beloved Canadiens, Robitaille was so furious that he hurled a water cooler against the locker-room wall. But not this time. This time he was like a one-man power play. Luc was all over Patrick Roy, Montreal's goalie. He got off seven shots in the second period alone. Once he dug so hard for the puck, Roy flipped it over the glass.

"I've been trying a lot of things lately and nothing's been going in," Robitaille said. "Now I feel better."

After that Game 6 against Toronto in California--the one his mother couldn't watch--Robitaille was in the hallway with his wife, Stacy Rae, when the owner of the team, Bruce McNall, spotted them.

"Whatever you've been doing to get this guy to score more, keep doing it," McNall teased.

"I will," Stacy said, blushing.

This is how a guy gets to be Lucky. When he has more than one lady on his side.

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