NHL99: How Larry Robinson’s Hall of Fame career almost got ended early by a horse

Welcome to NHL99. athleticCountdown to the 100 best players in modern NHL history. We rank his 100 players, but we’re calling it 99 because everyone knows he’s #1. That’s because we need to figure out his 99th spot behind 99th place. We will be announcing new members to the list every Monday through Saturday through February.

It was during a game in 1987 that Larry Robinson was injured in a collision that threatened his career with the Montreal Canadiens. According to newspaper reports at the time, body checks were leveled by opponents weighing over 1,000 pounds.

It was a horse, apparently unable to comment after the game, but the damage it caused rippled through the hockey world that summer. I had severely fractured my right leg, my tibia to be exact.

He may have played golf. He could have been swimming, running, or playing tennis. Robinson, however, fell in love with polo, a high-risk, high-speed sport he often describes as “hockey on horseback.”

“It’s a thrill like no other,” he said over the phone.

Now 71, he was kicked out of the polo field because of his wobbly back. He lives in Florida full time and on a small farm at his Sarasota Polo club where he owns three horses.

From time to time, one of the greatest defensemen in NHL history still climbs on his horse and sets off with a mallet only to feel the ball strike again. Robinson didn’t find the sport until later in his hockey career, but in his prime he competed in events throughout North America.

He was willing to take risks and knew polo could end his other career. On ice, Robinson has developed the kind of résumé that’s hard to describe. At 6 feet 4 inches and about 220 pounds, he’s cut his imposing figure — the physical representation of the modern meme “(messed up) look around” — but he moves just as forcefully on his skates. , 6 was taken to Stanley. Cup title, two Norris trophies and Conn Smythe his trophy as the Most Valuable Player in his 1978 NHL playoffs.

Larry Robinson winning the Stanley Cup and Conn Smith Trophy at the Montreal Forum in 1978. (His NHLI by Dennis Brodur/Getty Images)

After retiring, he was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Canadiens retired his uniform number 19 and Stanley won his cup four more times as a coach (3 times) and a consultant (1 time).A boy who grew up in a small town outside Ottawa is his number 24 athleticlist of the 100 best modern players.

He may rank even higher on the list of NHL players who also played polo. (Montreal’s longtime teammate Steve His shut was a fellow polo enthusiast. Maple Others, including his Leafs hero Darryl Sitler, dabbled in it for charitable purposes. Did.)

“Everyone thinks of polo and thinks of Julia Roberts, Pretty Woman, and so on,” Robinson said. “It’s not vague like that.”

He grew up on a farm and studied in a one-room schoolhouse. After winning his cup with Stanley as his head coach for the Devils in New Jersey in 2000, he took the trophy back to his hometown of Marvelville, Ontario, where he invited Jersey cows to feed hay out of their silver bowls. I was.

Years ago, in a 1979 interview with The Globe and Mail, Robinson explained that his original goal was to become a veterinarian. I’m a doctor.”

He knew about animals, but he didn’t know much about polo until after joining the Canadiens, when he decided it was time to keep his young family out of the bright lights of the city.

“It was around the time when all the kids started playing at these pinball spots with pinball machines and games and stuff,” Robinson said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want my kids to do that.'”

The family moved further west to a small town. Robinson bought a house and said, “I’d say it’s three-quarters done,” and having bought he needed space to ride a quarter horse. He found a space called Cedardale Farms and the owner asked if he had tried polo.

Robinson laughed. Wait a minute, I can’t swim well enough to play polo. ”

It started there.

“It’s just addictive,” said Linda Allard, who has worked with Robinson horses for nearly 40 years. “It’s a lot of fun. Larry is particularly interested in the horse part. Not just taking care of the horses, but the whole life on the farm.”

Allard’s family owned Cedardale. She began caring for Robinson’s horses when she was 14, and she remembers what it was like when the star of her local hockey team was in town.

“Obviously, he got a little extra attention,” she said. “Even if you’re just going to dinner or something, you have to call ahead. rice field.

Robinson has also played in countless polo matches for charity.

“Certainly a lot of people came to Polo just to watch the rally,” Allard said. “He’s very kind. He’s like the farmer next door. He doesn’t behave like that. He’s very humble.”

David Offen is a former professional polo player who befriends Robinson.

“Being a good polo player takes a combination of horsemanship, athleticism and a sense of the game,” says Offen. “Larry was clearly a good athlete, with a great sense of the game that was transferred from hockey to polo.

Polo is usually played between two teams of four riders, with the aim of hitting the ball into the opponent’s goal. Instead of riding the same horse throughout the game, players swap animals as they get tired. The game consists of chuckers like hockey periods.

“People play golf, but the ball doesn’t move when they’re playing golf,” Robinson said. “Now all of a sudden you’re going 20 mph. Mind you, the ball is much bigger. You still have to be able to hit that ball. Bounce or move in any direction.

“It’s the best feeling ever to be one with the horse and go out on the field and hit the ball and have a match.”

Larry Robinson, played in a charity polo match in 2001. (Colin McConnell/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Robinson generally played defense.

“The danger lies in not being able to control the horse,” he said. “I’m traveling at close to 25 mph and suddenly I have to stop and turn. Or stop and get out of the way or move.

“You can’t be a good polo player if you can’t control your horse.”

On 9 August 1987, he suffered the worst injury of his polo career.

Robinson said he was running towards goal as another player came on board. His horse was forced into the path of the other horse and his leg was wedged between them. “It put my leg up or backwards or backwards.”

something broke.

“I thought, ‘Oh, okay, I just hit my knee,'” he said.

He underwent surgery at Montreal General Hospital and had two pins inserted into his leg. (In an interview with Le Journal de Montreal, Canadiens coach Jean Perron said he was “furious” to hear his great defenseman was out indefinitely: “The value of rallying to the team. is immeasurable.”)

Robinson was 36 that summer. He had already played in his 15 NHL seasons. Speculation began circulating in Montreal that an injury sustained while playing polo would end his hockey career.

“I said, ‘Oh, you think so?'” Robinson said. “That was all the motivation I needed. You didn’t have to tell me you couldn’t do something. We doubled our efforts to get it back.”

He returned to his uniform by November 18.

Robinson signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Kings two years after his injury and had some success in another equestrian pursuit. In February 1990, his six-year-old mare, which he owned with Kings owner Bruce McNall, won Monrovia his handicap at Santa Anita.

Robinson said he goes to see the horses as often as possible. His competitive days have passed on him — “the body said ‘no'” — but his connection to polo remains strong.

“The only hard part of watching it is that you wanted to be there and play,” he said.

(Top photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

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