Kings fans bid adieu; Robitaille plays final home game
LOS ANGELES -- Luc Robitaille couldn't believe his eyes when he walked into Staples Center for the final time as an NHL player. Everywhere he looked in the empty arena, there was evidence of what he has meant to the Los Angeles Kings and their fans.
Stretched around both ends of the rink, there were banners proclaiming "Luuuuuc!" His familiar No. 20 was also prominently displayed, along with "Thank You 20" placards sitting in every seat before the arena doors were opened Saturday night.
"When I came in and saw what they did, it's almost embarrassing that they're making this about me," said Robitaille, the league's career scoring leader among left wingers and the Kings' career goal leader.
"As a hockey player, you play for the team and for your teammates. You never play for yourself or think about yourself. This is not tennis, where you're alone on the court. Hockey is a team game, so this is very hard for me to handle. It certainly is overwhelming," he said.
Robitaille has scored 557 goals with the Kings -- seven more than boyhold idol Marcel Dionne, whose franchise record he eclipsed on Jan. 19 with a hat trick in an 8-6 victory over Atlanta.
Robitaille failed to record a point Saturday night in the Kings' 2-1 shootout victory over Calgary, and also missed on an attempt in the tiebreaker. The 19-year veteran has 597 assists and 1,154 total points in 1,076 regular-season games during his three stints with the Kings, spanning 14 seasons. His point total is second on the franchise list behind Dionne's 1,307.
Robitaille got his nickname "Lucky" from former teammate Dave "Tiger" Williams. But his 19th and final NHL campaign hasn't been pretty.
Robitaille has 15 goals and nine assists and missed nine games in November because of fractured bone in his leg. He was benched for three games in December by coach Andy Murray, who was fired on March 22.
Murray's replacement, John Torchetti, sat Robitaille down for one game last week. Three days later, the eight-time All-Star announced that he would hang up the skates for good after Monday night's regular-season finale at San Jose. And he has no regrets.
"I call it a celebration. I mean, that's how I feel. It's been the greatest time in my life. I've been living my dream," said Robitaille, who turned 40 on Feb. 17. "It's definitely going to be my last time putting my skates on in this locker room, and I'm trying to take it as a normal game -- even though it's not. I looked at the ice surface and it's a little bit overwhelming. I'm just been trying to enjoy every moment more as a player and not think back 14 years."
Robitaille wore the captain's "C" for the game and will again at San Jose, while Mattias Norstrom switches to alternate captain.
Robitaille, playing on a line with Dionne and Bryan Erickson in his NHL debut on Oct. 9, 1986, scored the first of his 668 goals against St. Louis' Rick Wamsley on the first shot of his first shift 16 minutes into the first period of a 4-3 loss to St. Louis at the Forum. He had 45 goals and 84 total points that season and won the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year -- becoming the only rookie to this day who has led the Kings in scoring over an entire season.
Robitaille scored no fewer than 44 goals in any of his first eight seasons with the Kings, including a career-high 63 in 1992-93 as they reached the Stanley Cup finals for the only time in club history. He spent one season with Pittsburgh and the next two with the New York Rangers before returning to Los Angeles for another four-year hitch. Then it was on to Detroit, where he won his only Stanley Cup title, and then back to the Kings for his final two seasons.
The Montreal native made the jump straight from junior hockey to the NHL without spending a day in the minors. He was the 171st overall pick in 1984 and the Kings' ninth-round choice -- four rounds and 102 players after they selected current New York Mets pitcher Tom Glavine. When Robitaille brought the Stanley Cup to Dodger Stadium during the summer of 2002, he made sure the two-time NL Cy Young winner got a chance to pose for pictures with it.
"It's kind of a weird feeling, knowing that next week I won't have to train for next year," Robitaille said.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press