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Luck has little to do with Robitaille's success

Luc Robitaille, whose 668 goals and 1,394 points are NHL records for left wings, today takes his rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame. His journey began with modest expectations but great heart.

November 09, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

FROM TORONTO — Luc Robitaille was never the fastest skater or most purely gifted player on the ice at any level he played. For a while, he wasn't even the most prolific scorer.

"It's funny he got 600 and some-odd goals in the NHL. It surprises me because he used to be a passer," said his father, Claude.

"I would say, 'You could score once in a while.' He'd say, 'Yeah, but it was the better play. We have more chance of winning. The other guy is a better scorer than I am.' "

Somewhere along the way he learned how to score like few before or since.

Robitaille, whose 668 goals and 1,394 points are NHL records for left wings, today will take his rightful place in the Hockey Hall of Fame with fellow inductees Steve Yzerman, Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and New Jersey Devils executive Lou Lamoriello.

It will be the highlight of a journey he began with modest expectations but great heart.

Before his first game with Hull of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League -- and again before his Kings debut at the Forum in 1986 -- he told himself, "I've got to make this place mine. When I leave here, I want to leave a mark."

He continues to make an indelible impression on the Kings, whose uniform he wore for 14 of his 19 seasons. Now, they look to him for leadership as their president of business operations.

"He is the epitome, I think, of what we want this organization to become," said Tim Leiweke, the Kings' governor. "He's iconic and you've got a guy that still feels he has something to give to this organization, somebody that wakes up every day wanting this organization to achieve greatness."

Robitaille got the nickname "Lucky" from the French "Lucky Luke" cartoons he watched as a child. The name followed him to Los Angeles, where fans fell in love with the kid who was drafted 171st in 1984 but played like a prime pick and was voted rookie of the year in 1987.

Luck had less to do with his success than the example set by his father, an auto mechanic who built a scrap-yard business from scratch into a thriving enterprise before passing it to his oldest son, Pierre.

Claude set up shop in a milk truck, later moving into a trailer that was frigid in the winter. He sold cars and auto parts and took no vacations for a decade, stealing time to watch his middle child play in youth leagues around Montreal.

Luc drew on that ethic for everything he did -- his goals, four 100-point-plus seasons, eight All-Star game appearances and eight postseason All-Star selections. Now 43, he's still driven to excel as an executive, husband of singer-songwriter Stacia and father to sons Steven, 21, and Jesse, 14.

"The one thing I learned is always giving more than you think you can," he said. "I wasn't good every day, but I know I gave everything I could every day, and that's something I saw my dad doing."

In the four-minute speech he will deliver tonight -- part of it in French, his native tongue -- he will mention Claude and Madeleine, retired to the Quebec countryside. He plans to mention Claude Therrien too, because if not for his midget triple-A coach, he might not be here today.

It was Therrien who diverted his dream of playing center like his idol, Wayne Gretzky, and steered him onto a path that led him to team with Gretzky in Los Angeles.

"This coach takes me and says, 'Luc, you had a great camp, but I have these three centers that are going to play. I can keep you on the left wing,' " Robitaille said. "I'm like, 'I'd play goalie if you want, sir.' Then you look back, and that day changed my career."

Robitaille started on the fourth line. He gave up nights out with friends so he could work on his skating or lift weights. He soon gave up passing and learned to shoot, putting his size and soft hands to good use.

"I didn't set out any goals. It was all about the next game, the next game," he said. "My big goal, and one of the reasons I'm still here, was really to win a championship. Because I know when you win a championship, you mark something special."

The heartbreak for Kings fans is that he had to leave to get his name etched on the Stanley Cup.

He came close with the Kings in 1992-93, carrying them while Gretzky nursed an aching back. He set NHL single-season records for left wings with 62 goals -- since surpassed by Alexander Ovechkin -- and 125 points, which stands.

"I really thought in '93 we could be right back in the finals," he said. "Then you realize how hard it is. Everything has to be right."

He was traded to Pittsburgh in 1994 and to the New York Rangers, but the Kings traded Kevin Stevens to reacquire him in 1997. When then-General Manager Dave Taylor proposed to cut his salary in 2001, he left as a free agent for Detroit, where he played on the Red Wings' triumphant 2002 team. He came back as a free agent in 2003.

"I'm glad he got a chance to win the Cup, but we should have never let him go that last time," Leiweke said. "I'm glad he came back and finished in a Kings uniform. That was the right way to end his playing career."

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