Ondrasik: Q&A with Luc Robitaille
Singer/songwriter John Ondrasik -- who fronts Five For Fighting and is an LAKings.com contributor -- recently watched part of a Kings-Phoenix Coyotes game at STAPLES Center with Luc Robitaille.
For John, it was very insightful to spend a few moments with a Hockey Hall of Famer as he got Robitaille’s perspective of the game, his career and his current role with the organization as President of Business Operations.
Here is part of that special in-game conversation:
John: At the end of the Super Bowl, I noticed you watching the Giants celebration. You seemed to really appreciate that moment. Did you always like celebrations as a kid, or did that come after winning your own championship? Do you think back to your celebration when watching other teams?
Luc: I’ve always enjoyed celebrations, but what I think about now is what players go through. What people don’t realize is the sacrifice to get there. Everybody’s hurt by the time you get there. In hockey, if you win the cup you are hurt. You see a guy jumping to celebrate and the next day in the hospital having surgery.
J: Do you enjoy your job? I noticed walking around STAPLES Center, you’re greeting everybody, socializing, you’re the face of the team. Is that fun for you?
L: I think that’s who I am. I’ve never shied away from that.
J: You’re a people person.
L: Yea, I feel I’m lucky. I’m just a kid who wanted to play a game. Forty years later I’m still involved with the game. My dream was to play in the NHL and I’m working with an NHL team. It’s great. I thank my lucky stars.
J: You keep mentioning the word lucky. I know Tiger Williams gave you your nickname. Does that name ever annoy you? In a sense “Lucky” implies it’s not all talent and work ethic.
L: (laughing) No, because I know personally I had to earn it. Same as what I do now. Even though people open up and are nice to me, I still have to earn the respect in the business world. I know for me, it’s not luck, so it doesn’t bother me.
J: So your hockey name will only get you so far in the business world. People will want to talk to you, take a picture with you, but you have to produce on the numbers side to keep your job.
L: Exactly, what we do with sponsorship, T.V., ticket sales, everything.
J: Let’s talk about that since you brought it up. What can we expect to see that we’re not seeing now in the Kings game experience?
L: We know the NHL likes what we are doing online and during the game. Still we have to evolve. Everyone in the world copies what L.A. does. We have to be very careful with hockey, as we never want to lose the integrity of the game. That being said we do want people, when they come to a game, to say that was really fun. It was special. So, we do a lot of work towards that.
FIGHT!!! (Dustin Brown vs. Shane Doan)
J: Here we go!
(KINGS POWER PLAY)
J: Put it in!! AHH…COME ON…GOD! That’s the guy you want there…(Justin Williams)
J: The Kings struggle on the PP. You were a power play specialist. When you guys were struggling what was the strategy to turn it around?
L: When you’re struggling on a power play the thing you need to do is get it to the net. I remember when Dave Tippett was our power play coach here, he would say Luc, if you get it in the corner, take it to the net. No matter what take it to the net.
(Kings Hit Post)…
J: Like that?
L: Yes! If you do that, start shooting…every good power play, the good play is done off the rebound. It’s never done off the set up. The perfect play is very rare because every penalty kill is too good. It’s off a rebound. If you watch Detroit, whom everyone says is the best; they got a guy in front of the net every time. I remember when we were struggling I’d take it from the corner and just jam it to the net. Not knowing what would happen. Next thing you know you’d fall on the goalie and a guy pops it in the net.
J: Why do you think the Kings don’t do that?
L: We have to.
J: Is that why Bernie (Nicholls) was brought in?
L: Yes, Bernie understands the power play and is good at telling the young guys what to do with the puck. The key to the PP is Drew Doughty. If Drew gets it to the net, we are going to get rebounds. I think the biggest thing in scoring goals comes down to scoring chances. A good goal scorer will get 4-5 scoring chances a game. Then some games you’ll get one goal and some games you’ll get a few.
FIGHT!!! (Phoenix goalie Mike Smith attacks Kopitar)
J: What is that? Kopi? So what do you think about fighting in
L: [laughing]I hate it…
J: How many fights did you get in?
L: In the NHL 5 or 6.
J: What do you mean in the NHL?
L: In junior I fought a lot more.
J: Did you have to fight in junior?
J: Really? What is that like for someone who is not a fighter? I mean that’s not why you play hockey. But you have to fight?
L: For me it was an emotional thing every time I got in a fight. You don’t really think. It hurts when you get hit though…
L: (laughing)… I think you have to do it to send a message once in a while. If you’re a goal scorer you sometimes have to do something out of the ordinary to get the team going.
J: Do you remember all your fights?
L: Yeah…if a player was disrespectful toward me I’d never let it go. I’d throw a lot of elbows. If I didn’t give it back they’d take advantage of me. I remember Chelios. Cheli was whacking me after every whistle. In 2001, one night I had enough. We’re up by a couple goals and he hit me a couple times and I wacked him back. He then took 2 penalties on me. I called him stupid and he punched me. I didn’t have time to drop my gloves as the referees jumped in. I got really mad because they gave me a penalty for fighting. So I get out of the penalty box and went on the bench and grabbed our left winger, pulled him off the ice, jumped on the ice, found Chris and crossed checked him into the boards. I dropped my gloves and started punching. I got 19 minutes of penalties.
L: Even Chris was laughing…He liked it…
J: Cause he was a fighter…
L: Yeah, he said “at least you gave it back to me”…and then he left me alone the rest of my career…
J: When you do that does the enforcer give you a high five?
L: Oh yeah, they are laughing like it’s the greatest thing. Marty would always laugh. They like when a scorer sticks up for himself…
J: Who was your best protector?
L: Marty was the best
J: Is that because he had a screw lose?
L: Marty was so tough, and smart in his toughness. What Marty would do, if Wayne would get hit, Marty would go to Doug Gilmour and hit him hard. And then he would wait and fight the toughest guy. And if he won the fight he’d go back to Doug Gilmour and say, “I hope you have another guy cause I’m going after you again.”
FIGHT!!! (Mike Richards versus Martin Hanzal)
J: Mike Richards. I don’t like seeing Richards fight. No more concussions! Tough guy. There’s been more fights in this game that the whole year! Did you set that up for me? Free promo?
L: (Laughing) That’s right…Richards is a little guy but he’s really tough. Watch this…
J: So a guy like Richards, we worry about him after his concussion, and of course Gagne. Have there always been this many concussions, because it seems like elite players are always getting hurt?
L: I think the knowledge is a lot better on concussions.
J: So now guys are actually sitting out when in your day, they’d just play.
L: That’s one thing, but that being said, guys are a lot bigger, stronger and faster so there’s more impact.
J: The collisions are harder.
L: Yes, the rink is no bigger, but the guys are 20 lbs heavier. The other thing is in the old days you used to hook a guy before you go in the corner. So, if you’re receiving it you know where the guy was; now you’re not allowed to hook. That changed the tempo of the game. Now you don’t know where the guy is.
J: Did you ever have a concussion?
L: I never missed a game.
J: Did you ever get woozy?
L: I got hit a couple games where I was hobbling. If it was today I would have missed a few days for sure. In those days it was take a couple Advil.
J: I worry that this generations greatest hockey ambassador Sydney Crosby may be done at 22 due to his head injuries. Do you share that fear?
L: Everyone in the NHL is worried about Sydney. The other thing is, Sydney plays really hard, on the edge. That makes him so great. He’s a superstar that plays like a 3rd line player.
FIGHT!!!! (Colin Fraser versus Raffi Torres)
J: This is like the old Flames/Kings games!
J: Is Simone Gagne going to play again this year?
L: I don’t know, he’s skating.
J: What do you miss the most about playing in the NHL?
L: The Room: There’s no boundaries. There’s nothing you can’t say in the room. That can’t happen in the business world. No ones calling HR and saying, “you embarrassed me in front of the team.” You got to take it.
J: A dynamic that’s always fascinated me about pro athletes is the fact that there are two sides. There is the team winning. There is also your performance. Even if your team wins, if you don’t score a goal all year, you’re not going to be happy. The other extreme is you’re leading the league in scoring, but you’re on a terrible team. A part of you will be satisfied with that. If you are on a 10 game winning streak, but slumping, how are you feeling? How do you reconcile those two competitive emotions?
L: I think it depends on how the team treats you. Some teams understand the big picture, like Detroit. Even if you’re in a slump and the teams winning they stick with you. That is how you become a franchise that everyone wants to be part of, that wins every year. I’ve seen it both ways. I would say for the players, if the team wins they are going to lean towards that, you know you’ll come out of a slump if you work hard. Also if the team is winning the coach will leave you alone, so the pressure is different.
J: Would you ever want to coach?
L: Right now I’d say no, but Wayne Gretzky said that and loved coaching.
J: Talking about Wayne. Wayne has the statue. Wayne’s Wayne. Still, you’re a kind of Magic Johnson for the Kings. You’re the face of the Kings. Do you ever think about that?
L: I don’t ever really think about that. Obviously I work for the Kings, but I understand my role. I think for me I idolized Wayne, and Wayne Gretzky is the biggest star to play our game. I just think if I can help promote our game in L.A., help our fans understand how we feel as an organization, that’s the thing.
HERO OF THE GAME…
As a big supporter of our troops I love the hero of the game. I also love how the players tap their sticks. The other day an opposing player, who was in the box, stood and clapped for a service member. Made me love hockey players and hockey. How did the hero of the game come about?
L: Our coach wanted to salute someone from the service…
J: What coach?
L: Mark Crawford. He wanted to salute someone, take them to dinner, and call them the Hero of the game. Introduce them doing the anthem. So that’s how it came about…
J: When did you become an American citizen?
J: Why did you decide to do that?
L: I love America. When I was a kid I loved the flag and what America stands for. At one point I decided to do it, I’m not going away…
J: How was taking the oath?
L: What made me realize how emotional it was, was the service members there who were crying around…People want to be American…It reminded me of my youth.
J: Wow it’s madness…Where’s Tiger Williams when you need him!
L: That was awesome
J: In Nashville they have national acts/bands/singers perform between periods. Would that ever work here at STAPLES Center?
L: Yes…We think it would. We just don’t have a place to put the band…so we’re looking at it…
J: Who’s your favorite King ever?
L: My favorite King ever...I was such a Wayne Gretzky fan so I’d have to say Wayne, but Marcel was so good to me.
L: They put me with him as a roommate at camp and he asked if you make the team where do you want to live? I said I’d like to live in a boarding house because I want to think about hockey nothing else. So he called his wife, most kids would say they wanted to live in Hollywood, have fun. He took me to his house, Jimmy Carson and Steve Duchesne to his neighbor’s house and that’s where we lived.
J: So you lived at his house. Do you talk to him much?
L: Yes, a lot, he’s coming to our fantasy camp. He’s awesome. He does a lot of stuff.
J: If you came back, right now, for one year how many goals would you score?
L: (Laughing) I don’t know…not many…
J: Come on Power Play specialist 20 goals? I know you don’t want to answer, but I think 15-20.
L: If I play with Kopi.
J: When your kids were young and the crowd went “LUUUUUUUCCCC” did they think you were being booed?
L: (Laughing) - Friends of ours would think that…
J: If you could start a team with any player who would that be?
J: Even with his injuries? You know he may never play another game.
L: That’s a hard one…If not him, Doughty or Toews…
J: Drew Doughty seems to be back on his game. Did it make you mad when pundits and idiot fans said, “Luc is back on his game.” Implying you were off. Did you just ignore us?
L: My philosophy was if someone writes something good about me I try to prove them right, if they write something bad about me I try to prove them wrong…
J: Dustin Penner has obviously not met expectations. Did you ever go to a team and not fulfill their expectations, and how did you handle that?
L: I know when I was in NY I didn’t produce as much as they wanted me to. I put a lot of pressure on me. It was hard, I didn’t have the same ice time…but nobody ever questioned my effort.
J: Did putting too much pressure on yourself hurt your performance?
L: Sometimes, but the reason I made the NHL was I put pressure on myself. There’s a middle ground you got to find…But sometimes I went too far…I can’t question it as it’s the only reason I made the NHL
J: Back in the early days there was a lot of high scoring games…You guys may score 5 goals, but often the opponent would score 7. You’re telling me if you got a hat trick but the team lost, you weren’t excited about your hat trick? I was at those games.
L: If we lost I don’t care…It was never a good thing to lose…Me as a player; I know I was a better player when I played to win. If I got caught trying to get a goal or a point I know I wasn’t going to be as good. If it was all about winning I would produce more.
J: That’s a good answer…Maybe some of the Kings could use that answer…On that note do you ever talk to the players?
L: Not too much. I understand its Dean’s team, but once in a while I’ll talk to Kopi or see guys downstairs. I always try to be on the positive side. Especially on the things fans don’t always see…battles in the corners.
J: Do players come to you for advice?
L: Not much. I really believe we have our coach, and our coach is our coach.
J: What’s the best thing about being in the Hall Of Fame?
L: It’s not something I set out to do. I wanted to play in the NHL. Next thing you know I retire and I’m in the Hall of Fame with Rocket Richard, Gordie Howe, Guy Lafleur, Gretzky. It’s a weird feeling I’m with those guys. Now that you ask me it’s pretty cool. I never think about it.
J: There had to be a time in your career when you had to think…Wow I could be a Hall-of-Famer. Do you remember when that happened?
L: When I scored my 500th goal, after the game someone did an interview with me and said you know if you get 500 goals you’re probably in the Hall of Fame. That’s when it hit me.
J: I just saw the other night Teemu Selanne knocked you out of the top 20 scorers of all time. Do you hate him? Are you pissed?
L: (Laughing) No…I’m done…Selanne is such a great guy it’s great, that’s why records are made, to be broken…
J: Yeah Yeah…You’re ticked off….
If you’re on the PP Game 7 Stanley Cup Final, 2 minutes to go, who do you want on the ice with you? Anybody past, present?
L: Lemieux, Gretz, Nick Lidstrom, Ray Bourque
J: Who would you want in Goal for your team?
J: OHH!….When he winked at Tomas Sandstrom did you guys know on the bench?
L: No, we didn’t see it till a few days later.
J: Does that make your stomach hurt every time you see the wink?
L: (laughing) NO…
J: It makes mine hurt…
J: What goalie did you fear the most?
L: Patrick and (Dominik) Hasek…
J: Who’s the best fighter that rarely fought?
L: Cam Neely
J: Who’s the worst fighter that fought a lot?
L: Kelly Buchberger, because he was always wide open. He was dangerous if he hit you, but he was always wide open.
J: Who would win in a fight, Bailey or me?
J: When are the Kings going to win the Stanley Cup?
L: I hope in the next 3-4 years. It’s hard…I don’t want to say that…Next Year! This Year!
J: Right answer.