Robitaille finally wins a title in L.A.
LOS ANGELES -- It's mission accomplished for Luc Robitaille.
Robitaille joined the Los Angeles Kings organization three decades ago as a late-round draft pick in 1984, bringing both an infectious smile and a giant chip on his shoulder to the West Coast to tackle what could be described, at best, as an uncertain future.
"No team wanted me; keep that in mind," Robitaille said days before the Kings won their first Stanley Cup. "Even the Kings, I kind of question it because they drafted [former major-league pitcher] Tom Glavine before me even though he said he'd never play hockey. But that was the team that wanted me."
When Robitaille raised the Stanley Cup over his head Monday night, celebrating the franchise's first Stanley Cup, the smile was bigger and brighter than ever -- but the chip on his shoulder was long gone, eroded away by a steady stream of successes culminated by Robitaille's stewardship of this Kings team to the pinnacle of the sport.
The Kings won one of the most unexpected Stanley Cups in history, turning a last-week invite as the No. 8 seed in the West into a 16-4 rampage that came against the top three seeds in the West and a New Jersey Devils team that amassed 102 points during the regular season. Los Angeles finished the magical run with a dominating 6-1 victory in Game 6 against New Jersey at the Staples Center.
It is an against-all-odds run that Robitaille, the author of his own against-the-grain story, can certainly appreciate and relish.
Robitaille, now the club's president of business operations, was selected in the ninth round -- a round that no longer exists, by the way -- in the 1984 Draft. There were 170 other teenagers taken ahead of him, each expected to be better than Robitaille and contribute more than him.
Yet, nobody -- not No. 1 pick Mario Lemieux, nor No. 2 Kirk Muller -- from that Draft played in more NHL regular-season games than the 1,431 for which Robitaille laced up his skates.
Along the way to a Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 2009, Robitaille scored 668 goals and 1,394 points. In 2002, he won the Stanley Cup with Detroit, skating in 23 of the 159 Stanley Cup Playoff games in which he has appeared during his career.
But, even as he celebrated that historic win with the Red Wings, his thoughts strayed back to Los Angeles and the missed opportunity of a decade earlier when the Kings reached their first Cup Final, only to lose to the Montreal Canadiens in five games in 1993.
There was a longing, however faint, that this would all be happening in front of the Kings' faithful, in front of the fans that embraced him and welcomed him into the National Hockey League.
"Your first team, if you're here long enough right off the bat, it always becomes something kind of special," Robitaille said.
So, it was no surprise that soon after his playing career ended in 2006, with a third stint in Los Angeles, Robitaille quickly found a home in the Kings' front office.
This is his team, his town, his family, his heart.
"I learned to speak English, came here and I'm still here today," Robitaille said. "I'm 46 and still involved with the great game that I love and a team that I love."
He came home simply because he wanted his team, his town, his family, his heart to experience the rapture that comes with claiming the most cherished trophy in hockey.
"One of the main reasons I wanted to be involved with this team is I wanted to have an opportunity to be part of the team if and when it happens," Robitaille said.
Now, it has happened and it is validation -- not that Robitaille needs it -- that all the sweat equity was the soundest of investments.
It's easy to align yourself with a winner. It takes much more character to go all-in with a long shot. And, make no mistake, the Kings have been long shots throughout their 45-year existence.
Eighteen times in their history, including a six-year drought that ended in 2010, the Kings couldn't even qualify for the postseason. Sixteen times they have been one-and-done in Stanley Cup Playoff rounds.
It is not exactly a legacy of excellence.
But, the die-hard fans have remained. Robitaille courted them through the latest rebuilding process, a run of losing that netted them a series of high-end picks that include cornerstones Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick.
Patience became the preaching mantra for Robitaille, a commodity he tried to sell through his ever-present smile and his own tale of overcoming the odds.
Monday night, before the fans that supported Robitaille and these Kings for years, Robitaille raised the Cup toward the rafters, a symbolic "told-you-so" moment to all of those have supported him since that day so long ago when Robitaille first arrived in Los Angeles hoping, like so many others, to make it in Hollywood.
"When you say you're going to rebuild, that means you're going to lose," said Robitaille. "You're basically saying in a nice way that you're going to lose. We told them that and we found a way to make our fans believe it.
"The cool thing about it is we can say today: 'See, we didn't lie.'"
Author: Shawn P. Roarke | NHL.com Senior Managing Editor