'Lucky' Luc sees the Cup returning West
There are many reasons to call Luc Robitaille "Lucky." He's one of the game's most prolific scorers, a Stanley Cup champion, a Los Angeles sports icon. One of hockey's true ambassadors still loves the game, but Robitaille has settled into retirement in classic Hollywood style.
In this week's Facing Off, Luc compares Sid the Kid to Super Mario and The Great One, discusses a shootout experience he will never forget, hands out advice on Barry Melrose's mullet and picks his Stanley Cup winner.
Question from David Amber: You were drafted in 1984, the same year as Mario Lemieux. As a kid who grew up in Quebec, what did you know about the legend of Super Mario?
Answer from Luc Robitaille: I knew a lot about Mario. I actually saw him when he played Bantam. I had to go see him just to see who this guy was that everyone was talking about. I also saw him play Midget AAA, and when he turned junior at age 16, he played only a mile from where my house was. I literally saw every one of his home games for Laval. My first year of Junior was his last year of Junior, so I got to play against him and I got to know him pretty well. This was a guy that I looked up to. I thought he was an amazing player.
Q: You finished only 22 goals behind him. So, in the big picture, it worked out pretty well for you, too.
A: [Laughs] It worked out really well. I learned from the best.
Q: You were drafted in the ninth round by the Kings. Five rounds earlier, the team picked a future Hall of Fame pitcher, Tom Glavine. Have you ever met him?
A: Yeah, I met him after we won the Cup when I played for Detroit. I brought the Cup back here to Los Angeles and had a big party at my house Saturday night. Sunday, we decided to take the Cup all around Los Angeles, places it had never been. So I took it to the Hollywood sign, I took it to the beach, to Sunset Boulevard, to Universal Studios, and then to Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers were playing the Braves that weekend, so Glavine was there and I took a picture with him and the Cup. We got a kick out of that.
Q: Glavine is from Boston and he's a huge hockey fan, so he must have known all about you.
A: Yeah, I knew about him and he knew all about me, too. He had heard the whole story before. I used to joke with the media that Glavine actually told the Kings he would never play hockey and they still drafted him 100 picks before me. I guess that's how far down the list I was.
Q: What was it like the day you heard Wayne Gretzky had been traded to the Kings?
A: Along with Mario, Wayne was the guy I looked up to on TV. I loved to watch him play. All the tricks he did on the ice were amazing. He actually owned the Junior team I played for. He bought the team in Hull, Quebec, before my last year in Junior, so I had a chance to meet him once. But knowing I would be seeing him play every day was like a dream. It was really weird. It was almost hard my first few years because I didn't know what to say or how to act. I was so impressed with everything about him.
• Robitaille was drafted in the ninth round (171st overall) in the 1984 draft.
• He won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year in 1987.
• He is an eight-time All-Star.
• He recorded eight straight 40-goal seasons, the third-longest streak in NHL history behind Wayne Gretzky (12) and Mike Bossy (nine).
• He is the NHL's all-time goal-scoring leader among left wingers (668).
• At the 1994 world championship, he scored the title-winning goal in a shootout to give Canada its first gold medal in 33 years.
• On Jan. 20, he became the fifth player to have his number retired by the Kings (Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Gretzky).
Q: All these Sidney Crosby comparisons to Gretzky and Lemieux. What do you think?
A: I think if Sidney played 20 years ago, he would be just as good. He's as good as anybody I have ever seen. You come into today's game and he's dominating; you just don't see that anymore. The thing that I like most about Sidney is his character. The kid wants to be the best every day, and I've known him since he was 13. I have a lot of respect for him and his work ethic. It's great to be a great player and be talented, but you have to want to be the best every day. Then, you have to go out and show it every day, and he is right now.
Q: Last season, Cam Ward wins a Stanley Cup as a rookie. How different is it for a guy like you, who had to wait to get that first championship toward the end of your career?
A: No matter what, when you win the Cup, it is something special. But I think the difference is, when you win it near the end of your career, you know how hard it is and it might never happen again. I guarantee you, if you talk to Cam Ward, he thinks he's going to win it next year, too. Ten years from now, he will be able to sit back and say, "Geez, that one year we won that was really special." I remember when we made it to the final in 1993, after we lost we were like, "We will be back next year. We'll win it next year." And the Kings didn't even make the playoffs again until like 1998. You just never know. So when you're older, you enjoy winning the Cup in a different way. You appreciate every moment.
Q: Who gave you the nickname "Lucky" Luc?
A: Tiger Williams did in my rookie year. We had a player on our team named Morris Lukowich and everyone would call him Luke. So every time anyone called out "Luke," we would both turn around. In my rookie year, I was living with Marcel Dionne at his house, and after my very first game, Tiger started calling me "Lucky." Guys started asking him why he was calling me "Lucky," and he said partly because of the Morris Lukowich confusion, but mostly because I was a rookie living in the biggest house on the team! Every day, I drove to practice in a Mercedes, which was Marcel's car; and I also scored a goal on my first shot on my first shift in the NHL. So that was pretty lucky. I couldn't argue with that.
Q: Some guys think you're called "Lucky" because of your wife Stacia. She is an accomplished singer and a beautiful woman, too. When you were playing, how tough was it balancing your two careers?
A: I want my wife to do what she wants to do. We spend a lot of time with our kids [two sons, Steven and Jesse]. We also have a foundation we spend a lot of time on. I believe everyone should follow their dream and do what they love. She loves what she does, so we make our commitments together and we have a lot of fun together.
Q: Stacia's music gets radio play. What's that like when you're driving in the car and one of her songs comes on?
A: We've had that happen. It is really cool. It happened a few times a couple of years ago when her album came out and we had a good time with it.
Q: You have two sons. Do they play hockey, too?
A: No, they don't play. My oldest son is 18. He's an actor. My youngest one plays the guitar and sings and draws and paints, just like his mom.
Q: Of all the goals you scored, is there one that stands out as the most memorable to you?
A: [Pause] Not really. Of course, your first one is special, and any goal you score in the playoffs that was a game winner is always a big goal. Getting to 500 goals and passing Maurice Richard is still overwhelming to me. But really, just getting the chance to play in the NHL was special.
Q: What is the proudest moment of your career?
A: Winning the Stanley Cup. Nothing beats that.
Q: You are the president and owner of the United States Hockey League's Omaha Lancers. Is this the first step toward owning an NHL team?
A: I don't know about that. I am really just learning the business right now. It's the same principles in business, just add a couple of zeroes for the NHL [laughs]. I'm having a lot of fun doing it and I'm learning a lot.
Q: Will we ever see Omaha Lancers president, owner and player Luc Robitaille?
A: [Laughs] I don't know about that. That's a lot of titles.
Q: What is the fan base like in Nebraska?
A: It's good. We were averaging 4,000 fans a night for years, but we lost about 1,000 fans because the Omaha Knights, Chicago's AHL farm team, came to town. There is also an NCAA team there. So there are a lot of teams in the area all playing in different arenas. We're still doing well. I think we'll be here for years. One team probably has to go, but I don't think it's going to be us. We're in first place right now.
Q: Play NHL commissioner for a minute. Should Las Vegas get an NHL team?
A: Yes, I think the fans would love it. There are so many tourists there, a lot of Canadian tourists. It would be an event every time there's a game. I think for TV, too, it will only help the game in the future.
Q: Should fighting be taken out of the game?
A: No. I just think it's just part of the game. I have played in Europe, where there's no fighting and there's a lot more stick work. I think the day you take fighting out, there will be more stick work. I think we need to bring back more respect to the game, if anything.
Q: Should the size of the rinks be increased?
A: Should have been done back in 1991-92, when we built all those new rinks. It's unfortunate. It's too late now. Today, it would make all the difference in the world.
Q: Should every team play at least one game against every other team?
A: Yes. I think every team should play twice against every team, one on the road and one at home. We're not baseball, where there is a certain feeling to it with the two leagues. In hockey, every fan wants to see every player, and they should. This year, everyone wants to see Crosby. Another year, it's going to be another guy. It's like when we had Gretzky in LA Everyone wanted to see him. It makes sense to me.
Q: Your career began and ended in LA How has the hockey landscape in California changed over those 19 years?
A: People don't know this, but LA has one of the best core group of fans in the league. Even this year, [the Kings] can be in last place, and they will still sell out almost every game. It's a great hockey city. We definitely had a boom during the Gretzky era and we've grown since then. Today, there are some players in the NHL who grew up in California. I think hockey is still growing here. The more rinks we build, the better it will be for the future. With a team like Anaheim doing well here, it is only helping.
Q: You mention the Gretzky factor, but what about the Robitaille factor? Every Kings game, it seemed half the fans have your jersey on their backs.
A: I think between the fans here and myself, we have always had a special connection. I think everybody feels like I kind of grew up here. I am like one of their adopted sons. Even when I played elsewhere, fans here always viewed me as an LA King, so I think that relationship between me and the fans here will always be that way.
Q: What's the best part of being retired from the game?
A: I get out of bed in the morning and nothing hurts [laughs].
Q: Yeah, but you were pretty healthy during your career.
A: Trust me, there were a lot of days I played hurt. My kids can vouch for that, and so can my wife. It's kind of nice now to get out of bed and say, "Gee, this is fun to see how normal people live."
Q: Who is going to win the Cup this year?
A: [Pause] That's a tough one. There are three teams I really like -- Buffalo, San Jose and Anaheim. [Pause] If I had to pick one team, alright, I'll pick Anaheim. I like their defense and goaltending.
Q: Who was the best coach you ever had?
A: Scotty Bowman, and probably Barry Melrose.
Q: Wow. Melrose is going to love to hear that.
A: He was great. He was the best communicator I ever had and he was a real player's coach.
Q: Now, why didn't you and the rest of the guys pin Barry down and cut off that mullet?
A: We should have, but you guys at ESPN should do it now [laughs]. In those days, in the early 1990s, it wasn't bad. But now, the mullet is totally over with.
Q: You have appeared on some TV shows like "Arliss" and "The Keenen Ivory Wayans Show," and in a couple of movies. Is your next career going to be in the movies?
A: No. Never. I know my limits and I don't like acting and I don't want to be part of acting. So I can tell you, I will never be there. I didn't like all the hurry up and wait, and the shoots take forever. So I didn't like that rush.
Q: You had a significant role in Jean-Claude Van Damme's movie "Sudden Death." Is that guy a fraud or is he actually a real martial artist?
A: No, he's a real martial artist. He was kicking way up and doing all sorts of amazing stuff. No doubt he's for real. He's a good guy. He was happy to speak French with another guy on the set and he treated me really good.
Q: But on skates against Georges Laraque, things aren't going too well for him, will they?
A: Oh no, he'd be killed. He's small. He's probably 5-foot-6 or something like that. All those Hollywood actors are really small compared to the hockey players.
Q: A few days after you announced you were going to retire at the end of the year, you had your final home game. What was that like?
A: It was fun. The whole game was such a blur. I wanted to announce the retirement ahead of time because I knew it was going to be my last home game. I wanted to be fair to all my friends so they could come and see one more game. It was just a lot of fun, basically a going-away party for me.
Q: And in that last home game, what was it like as you were skating in for the shootout with the whole crowd chanting your name?
A: The shootout actually screwed me up. The goalie wanted me to score. He gave me the whole five-hole and I was skating down and thinking to myself, "Why is he giving me that? It is way too big!" So, I didn't shoot there because it wasn't normal. I thought he was baiting me. The next day, Sharks coach Ron Wilson, who knew the Flames goalie [Miikka Kiprusoff] said to me, "What are you doing? He gave you the five-hole so you could shoot there you idiot!" I said, "Oh, Jesus." [Laughs]
Q: [Laughs] With that mentality, it's amazing you scored any NHL goals, let alone 668 of them.
A: [Laughs] I know.
Q: Do you ever watch a game now and think you could still be a productive player who scores 20 or 25 goals a season?
A: Sure, especially with the kid [Anze] Kopitar we have here this year. But I don't miss the game. I really enjoy watching the game now and just trying to help the young guys.
Q: So 15 years from now, what can we expect from Luc Robitaille?
A: Maybe making a comeback as a player [laughs]. Geez, 15 years, I don't know. I will probably be retired in the mountains somewhere, or maybe on the beach, too. Taking it easy somewhere, that's the plan.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.