WINDSOR, Ont. – Family, friends and fellow hockey players paid tribute to Bob Probert on Friday, remembering the former NHL tough guy as a gentle giant with a big heart.
About a thousand mourners gathered at the Windsor Christian Fellowship Church to say goodbye to one of the most feared fighters in NHL history.
Probert, who played for the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks between 1985 and 2002, died Monday after collapsing with chest pains during a family boat trip on Lake St. Clair. He was 45.
Former Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman remembered his former teammate in a eulogy.
“He had nicknames for everyone and lit up the dressing room, airplane and bus with his personality,” Yzerman said. “And away from the rink, he had a kind heart and was a gentle giant.”
Yzerman was joined at the funeral by many other members of the hockey community, including Red Wings owners Mike and Marian Illitch, Detroit general manager Ken Holland and former players Dino Ciccarelli, Doug Gilmour, Stu Grimson, Darren McCarty, Joey Kocur, Tie Domi and Gerard Gallant.
Despite his off-ice struggles with drugs and alcohol, Probert had a significant impact on the game, said former Detroit assistant coach Colin Campbell.
“We had many challenges with Bob early in his career,” said Campbell, who shared the podium with Yzerman. “But he battled through them all to become one of the biggest impact players in the NHL.
“I always used to think that I was helping Bob, but looking back now I realize that he was giving me life lessons.”
During his days on the ice, Probert never shied away from a fight. He was part of many memorable battles, often exchanging punches with an opponent until his elbow and shoulder pads had fallen to the ice. The list of his fighting partners reads like a who’s who of NHL tough guys: Grimson, Domi, Marty McSorley, Basil McRae and Donald Brashear.
Domi was visibly moved following the service.
“Everyone thought that Bob and I hated each other, but we had a great mutual respect,” said Domi, a native of nearby Belle River. “I always loved playing against Bob because he always competed so hard.”
But Yzerman said Probert was more than just a tough guy.
“Bob was one of the single biggest reasons for the rebirth of the Detroit Red Wings back in the 1980s,” he said. “Bob Probert was not just a one-dimensional hockey player. Yes, he had fists of stone, but he also had a soft scoring touch.”
A lengthy procession from the Families First Funeral Home on the city’s far east side to the church in the south end led by 54 motorcyclists, many of them wearing Probert jerseys. It was a tribute befitting of Probert, who was an avid motorcycle rider. Probert’s casket was transported to and from the church in a motorcycle side car.
Hundreds of fans also lined the streets during the procession to pay their respects.
“I can tell you with absolute certainty that Bob did not know how much he was loved,” Probert’s father-in-law Dan Parkinson said during a eulogy. “The response of the city of Windsor today has been overwhelming. To see so many people lining the street to pay their respects to Bob is very special.”
Parkinson, a retired Windsor police officer, then paused for a moment before making light of Probert’s numerous brushes with the law.
“Bob was more fascinated with my career than I was with his,” he said as the audience broke out into laughter. “He took every opportunity to interact with members of law enforcement agencies both in Windsor and Detroit.”
Probert is survived by his wife Dani and his four children: Tierney, Brogan and twins Jack and Declyn.
One of the most touching moments of the service came from Probert’s daughters.
“On July 5, 2010, my father was called to heaven,” said Tierney.“Heaven will never be the same.”
“I had the goofiest, most embarrassing dad ever,” Brogan said during the service. “But he was my dad, and I will always love him.”