Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Man Who Saved Hockey

About a week ago I was watching Deadspin's latest installment of "Let's Remember Some Guys" (if you haven't seen it, it's a series in which one person opens a pack of old trading cards and the other has to "remember" as much as they can about the players in the pack)

In this episode, a pack of 1991-92 Stadium Club hockey cards were opened. The writer remembered Randy Caryle - a Norris trophy-winning defenseman before her time who would go on to win a Stanley Cup as a coach - but did not know anything about Larry Robinson (who is also a Norris trophy-winning defenseman before her time who would go on to win a Stanley Cup as a coach.) That led to a comment that led to this post:
Wait a second...Larry Robinson saved the sport of hockey? My pre-Bettman era knowledge of the NHL is admittedly very limited, so I watched the grainy fight footage. It seems that at the time of this brawl, the NHL was at a crossroad. The Montreal Canadiens were the class of the league in the early 1970s and the late 1970s. In between, the Philadelphia Flyers won back-to-back Stanley Cups by bullying their opponents into submission. If they kept on winning, the rest of the league would be forced to match their brutality - Slap Shot style.

That's where Robinson comes in. By all accounts, Larry was a tough but clean player who didn't instigate. In the first four minutes of this biography, you get a sense that the Canadiens were fighting for the soul of the game:

It took a player like Larry Robinson to show the Flyers - and the hockey world - that the Bullies can be beaten - physically, and on the scoreboard. Montreal swept Philly in the 1976 final, and didn't relinquish the Cup until 1980.

I wasn't born until that summer (and I didn't start watching hockey until the '90s) but I can appreciate the legendary lineup Les Habitants had in those years: Robinson, Serge Savard, and Guy Lapointe on defense. Guy Lafleur, Steve Shutt, Pete Mahovlich, Yvan Cournoyer, Jacques Lemaire, Bob Gainey...and of course Ken Dryden in goal. 

I've got a very small collection of Canadiens cards from this era, and now that I have an appreciation for Robinson's role in shaping hockey history I'll focus on his cards in particular.
Here are a few of my favorites:

Robinson finished his career with the Kings in 1992 - a year before L.A. lost to Montreal in the Stanley Cup Final. 

I thought that Robinson's 1991-92 issues (like the Stadium Club card at the top) were his sunset cards, but he had one card in 1992-93 Bowman.

After his playing career ended, Robinson coached the Devils, Kings, and Sharks. Now a senior consultant with the St. Louis Blues, he has contributed to ten Stanley Cup championship clubs.

This is my most recent Robinson addition. It's one of 302 cards I just received in a blockbuster trade with TCDB user Shaw Racing. Most of them were set fillers and Packers of the 1990s, but I did select a few singles from 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee.

One more Robinson story I almost forgot: when I was in high school my best friends were friends with a big metalhead guy who wore dark, baggy clothes even when we played baseball. His name was - you guessed it - Larry Robinson. But this Larry Robinson was nicknamed "Sheep Dog", not "Big Bird". I'm not quite sure why.

I came across his Facebook profile some years ago, and his profile pic was Robinson's jersey:

Thanks for reading!



  1. Interesting--thanks for the hockey history lesson!

  2. That was a cool read! Well done!

  3. As usual, all of this info is new to me. It's funny, I won't seek out any hockey related reading material, but I'll read it, and appreciate it when it's on one of the blogs.

  4. Gotta like that Robinson for setting the Flyers straight. Such an evil team.

    I don't have a very good knowledge of hockey history either. My wife, who has zero interest in sports, knows more about '70s hockey than I do.

  5. Great post. I knew a little bit about the guy... but learned a lot more today.