November 02, 2015

Mike Robitaille

Mike Robitaille was a hard hitting defenseman who's forte was body checking. But he could carry the puck very well too and he was a fine passer. Unfortunately Mike had to pay a steep price for his rugged play. He had three shoulder separations, a broken wrist, finger, ankle, torn rib cartilage and ripped knee ligaments, among other wounds by the end of his career.

After his career was over he was awarded $540,000 by the British Columbia Supreme Court in a bitter court battle against the Vancouver Canucks. He was awarded these money because of a spinal injury that he suffered while playing for the Canucks.

"Every time I swallowed I would get this tremendous pain down my back, my right side, under my shoulder and into my right arm, " Mike recalled about his last NHL season in 1976-77. " It really hurt. I told the coach (Phil Maloney) and the trainers about it. They told me that they really needed me and they would have a doctor look at me later."

Shortly thereafter his career came to an end in a game against Pittsburgh.

"I had just come out of the penalty box. The fans were yelling and screaming. I thought it was because they wanted me to get moving on a breakaway or something, " Mike recalled. "Instead, this guy (Dennis Owchar) was making a big U-turn to hit me. I never saw him. He hit me blindside and that was it."

When Mike went to the hospital the next day he learned that he had suffered a contusion to his cervical brain stem, a very severe bruise at the point where the neck attaches to the skull. At that time the Canucks were spreading rumors about Mike that he was psychosomatic, a "head case".

Mike, of course, found that somewhat disturbing.

"They tried to tag me with that because of some anxiety attacks I had during my career. Club doctors would treat it with Valium. Anytime I would feel a little weary I would get some valium, pop it in my mouth and everything would be fine. Then they (Vancouver) tell me that I'm unstable. I couldn't believe it. To top everything else they put me on waivers while I was in the hospital half-paralyzed. By then the Canucks were spreading more rumors saying I had a nervous breakdown."

So when Vancouver terminated Mike's contract in August 1977 he was faced with a high amount of medical bills while being disabled. So he decided to sue the Canucks. Vancouver were found guilty of negligence after several weeks in court.

"With that ruling I got my dignity back. I proved that all the things that the Vancouver management had said about me were false. They didn't sweep me under the rug, " Mike said.

Despite this bitter farewell with the NHL Mike had some fine moments in his playing career.

As a young 14-year old boy he was predicted to become a star in the NHL. He played his junior hockey for the Kitchener Rangers (OHA) between 1964-68. In his final junior season (1967-68) he scored 71 points (20 goals and 51 assists) in only 51 games and was named to the OHA first All-Star team.

Mike then played two seasons with the Omaha Knights of the CHL. He was voted the top defenseman in the CHL in 1969-70, was a first team All-Star and led Omaha to the playoff championships. He also led the playoffs with 14 assists. That same season he pitched in with five AHL playoff games with the Buffalo Bisons and won the AHL championship as well.

As a right-handed shooting defenseman he was a much desired asset for the NY Rangers in the NHL. NY Rangers didn't have any patience with him though and quickly shipped him to Detroit early in 1971. Mike only lasted a few months in Detroit before being traded to Buffalo. He played in Buffalo for over two seasons. In 1974 he was traded to Vancouver where he enjoyed his most productive seasons, scoring 24 and 27 points respectively in 1975 and 1976.

After his playing career was over Mike moved back to Buffalo and eventually went on to work as Buffalo Sabres color commentator for the Buffalo Sabres radio and cable TV broadcasts. Even though Mike's playing career came to an abrupt end he came out of it all in a positive light.

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