Remember the questions you came up with last week for Bobby Robins of the Providence Bruins? Here are your answers. It's not often that we get great in-depth answers to our questions for pro athletes - but here are 3,000 words worth of great responses.
In addition to playing for the PBruins, Robins also writes and maintains the Bobby Robins Blog at www.bobbyrobins.com, which is a collection of personal writings, essays, and prose, written by Robins. Robins graduated with honors from the University of Massachusetts-Lowell in 2006 with a Bachelor's degree in English-Writing, and aspires to be a professional writer after his hockey career. Follow him on twitter @bobbyRRRobins
And now, without further ado....
Would you please go into your decision to go to Umass-Lowell, specifically what were the risks/benefits of the college route as opposed to your other playing options?
I didn't have too many options coming out of the USHL until the end of the season in 2001-2002 with the Tri-City Storm. I played hard all year, put up some decent numbers, and a whole lot of penalty minutes that year, but things didn't really start to click until the end of February. That is when I started to get some Division 1 interest. Most of the interest was from small schools in some of the lesser known leagues, but it was through a recommendation from a former coach, Rikard Gronborg, that I got on Umass Lowell's radar. Umass Lowell had a reputation for being a blue collar club, and liked hard nosed players. I guess I fit that mold because I had put up some goals and assists in the USHL, along with playing with reckless abandon, game in and game out.
Then the courting process started, and I had a few phone interviews with Umass Lowell, along with some other schools like Iona, which ended up losing their hockey program the next year, and Niagara University. There was some interest from Yale, Air Force Academy, and University of Minnesota-Mankato as well. But in the end it came down to Niagara University and Umass Lowell.
It was during talks with Blaise MacDonald, the head coach at Umass Lowell, that I knew Lowell was the right place for me. I knew that playing in Hockey East would be the best decision. I remember Coach MacDonald asking me random questions on the phone, obviously testing me and analyzing my answers.
"If you could have dinner with five people, dead or alive, from any time period, who would they be?"
I remember being so nervous. I was sweating. I didn't know what to say. I was 19, and had no idea."Wayne Gretzky, George Washington, Mario Lemieux, President Bush, and of course I would want you there too."
That was my answer. Talk about playing to your audience. My real answer, at that point in my life would have probably looked more like this:
"Fat Mike from Nofx, Bob Dylan, JD Salinger, Kevin Smith, and Stanley Kubrick."
Somehow I must have answered some of the questions accordingly, and ended up committing to Umass Lowell, and it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. While at Lowell, I learned that I can accomplish anything, that I can climb the pecking order, and rise up from a lowly Freshman who sat out the first ten games to the Captain and leading scorer my Senior year. I learned that the formula for success is unconditional belief in a goal, commitment to that goal and to that believe, and work. Hard, passionate, work.
Regarding other options, I didn't have any. I didn't really have any options at that point in my life. I knew I just wanted to play hockey, and that's what I was doing. I was doing what I loved to do.
What are some of the craziest/ugliest uniforms you've worn?
It's always funny to see a bunch of savage beasts in hockey armor taking the ice with pink socks and pink jerseys on to celebrate Valentine's Day. That's always a sight to see, and for some reason, these games usually turn into the bloodiest of all! When I played for the Elmira Jackals in the ECHL, they stained the entire ice pink for Valentine's Day to match our pink uniforms, or I guess in this case they could be called "our pink outfits."
Before I take the ice for a game I like to look in the mirror and picture myself as some ancient warrior with my body armor on, ready to do battle. I stare deep into my own eyes and find my fire, my courage, my strength. And it's always funny to snap out of that deep trance and see yourself in a pink jersey with hearts all over it. It puts everything into perspective, which is a good thing.
When you were playing in Jesenice, was there ever a language barrier problem? How did you deal with it?
Language was a big barrier in Jesenice, Slovenia, partly because a lot of the older people there don't speak English Of course, the young people all learned English in school and can communicate perfectly, but some of the older people never learned. Our equipment manage didn't speak English, so every day was a back and forth game of charades to try and work out with hand motions exactly how sharp I want my skates that day.
Oftentimes, one of the local players would serve as translator, and that definitely helped. It is an interesting, and important, experience to try and communicate with someone who doesn't speak your language. I think that we can so wrapped up with our lives every day, that we forget that there are other people in the world who are so very different from us. You may not be able to communicate with words and sounds, but you can still communicate with universal languages of smiles, and laughter, and eye contact. I never had a conversation with the equipment manager in Jesenice, but through nods and hand motions, I know that there was love and respect between two human beings. Pretty cool stuff.
What's the coolest city you've lived throughout your career so far, and what was great about it?
Beautiful Belfast. I feel so grateful for my year in Belfast, Northern Ireland, playing for the Belfast Giants. I have nothing but great memories and smiles when I think of majestic Ulster.
We lived right downtown in Belfast, and the city was alive with radiant energy If you are not familiar with "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland, do yourself a favor and get on google and read about it. It was a bloody time period of clashes between the Catholics and Protestants. There were massive riots in the 90's, and youtube videos will show you what kind of war zone was happening there at that time. But by the time I got there in 2008, something had changed in Belfast. The youth of Northern Ireland set aside their differences, and they made it very clear that they didn't really care. It wasn't their fight. It wasn't their religion. It wasn't their politics. At least that's how I saw it, and how it was explained to me. Instead of fighting and hate, the city was taken over with art, music, fashion, and peace. Belfast experienced a renaissance, and the youth fought back with a vibrant night life and a culture all their own.
You can feel it in the air in Belfast. And for me, it was a start of my own renaissance of slowly becoming the person who I always wanted to be, and always was, but wasn't quite there yet. Belfast was a great lift for me and my life, and taught me many things.
It was my first time living overseas. I felt like I was on some great adventure, and I was. I needed Belfast to get to where I am today as a person and as a hockey player. I will always hold a special place in my heart for Belfast and for the people of Northern Ireland.
It's pretty early in camp so far but what do you thing of the makeup of Providence's team this year as compared to last year?
This year's Providence Bruins team doesn't have any holes. We are strong in every area. Goal-tending defense, goal scoring, skill, toughness, size, you name it, we have it. The group is also full of youthful energy and it is not an immature energy that you so often see with young teams. It is a hungry energy of young men who are willing to pay the price and know how to be professionals and come to work every day, ready to perform. It should be an exciting year!
As something of a pugilist over the course of your career, what's your outlook on the potential mental health risks of the trade? What's your opinion on efforts to reduce fighting in development leagues?
This is something that has weighed heavily on my mind for a long time. I value my brain, my intelligence, and my ability to write, so when I hear about the negative effects of head trauma, I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't concerned. Last season with the Chicago Express, I took a real deep look within myself, and had some talks with my fiancee about my concerns, and wondered if it was all worth it in the end. This was around the time the New York Times did an article on Derek Boogaard's death, and talks of pugilistic dementia and depression became more open in the hockey world.
In the end, I decided that I had come so far, from some kid in the middle of the north woods in Wisconsin, to being so close to the NHL. I decided that this is what I was supposed to be doing. It's what feels right to me now at this point in my life. I concluded that I have the warrior spirit inside of me, and I must do what I set out to do and chase this dream down, and hope that I am protected and watched over by some greater force that is beyond my control.
With that said, I also know that if the time ever comes that my body and brain are telling me to stop doing this, I will have the strength to walk away and pursue something else. If I ever take some serious damage to my head, I will know it is time to stop all of this. With that said, I try and fight smart, and I'm not one of the guys who will stand there and trade punch for punch. I don't like getting punched in the head. So I try and avoid it and always be moving in my fights.
It comes down to a personal decision for me. This is something that I want to be doing. It is exciting, and I feel so alive every time I take the ice, knowing that I am going into a battle. It's what I'm supposed to be doing. I'm made for it. I'm built for this stuff. I know this won't last forever, and I'm trying to be as safe as I can while I'm doing it so that my life after hockey is a healthy one.
Regarding fighting in lower leagues, I think that it is a part of our sport, and that players should start fighting at the Junior level, like it is now. If guys want to fight, they should be able to fight. Boys will be boys, as they say. And while I don't recommend it to everyone, if it is in you, you will know it, and you will have no choice but to follow your own path and decide whether or not you are willing to fight to follow your dreams.
I see you like to mix it up with the fists. Do you have a fight plan? Or do any scouting of other guys before a game to gt the upper hand if you happen to drop the gloves that night? Favorite opponent? Best fighter of all time?
I really only starting fight for real three years ago when I played for the Bakersfield Condors after spending two years in Europe, where there is no fighting. Before that, I got in a handful of scraps every season mostly because of a big hit that turns into a fight. I never really looked for fights, and I figured that I would wait until they came to me.
Everything about fighting is scary. I'm scared before every fight, and I'm scared the night before when I think about who I may have to fight. In the past, I let this fear control me, and as a result, I didn't fight very often, and didn't utilize all of my assets as a hockey player. I always played hard and aggressive, and intimidated my opponents on the forecheck and with my intensity, but without that fighting aspect, I was always missing a vital piece of the puzzle.
When I came back to North America to play, I made a conscious decision to fight. You can either wave a flag that says you are open to fights or you are not open to fights. I started flying my fight flag, and tested my courage by fighting anyone I could on the ice.
That was always the biggest obstacle for me. I had to face my fear to fight. Once the gloves were off, it was all instinct.
These days, I feel more comfortable shedding the gloves and have trained punching technique with martial artists, so now I am trying to focus on the technical side of fighting, and be more controlled and conserve my energy better.
Every fight, win or lose, is a learning experience, and I only hope to get better at it after each one. And, yes, I scout my opponents on hockeyfights.com before every game. I never really enjoy going at it with anyone, or anyone in particular. It is just something that has to be done, and so we go out there and we do our jobs to the best of our abilities and hope for the best. Best fighter of all time? Probert, no question.
How do you think playing over in Europe helped develop your career, and do you think that more players should “study abroad” to help develop?
As far as development, the American Hockey League is the best developmental league in the world. It gets players primed and ready to play in the NHL. I think the minor league system here in North America is excellent. The East Coast Hockey League is a great league with a lot of great players. And if you have the right mentality of the cream rising to the top, a player with a good head on his shoulders can really climb the minor league ranks and prepare for a run at the NHL.
But every player has a different path, and for me, I jumped ship early and headed to Europe after my second year pro. Looking back now with 20/20 hindsight, I probably left too early. I probably gave up to easily after. I signed an NHL deal right out of college and started at the top. At that point in my life, I probably needed the experience of working my way up the mountain. I needed a lot of personal growth as a human being, and is why Europe was good for me. It gave me some time to assess my life, and make some necessary changes. Being in Europe gave me a bitter taste in my mouth because I knew that I had given up on my NHL dream. I was content to stomp around Europe, playing hockey, and living a lifestyle that was much more relaxed than North America. I probably needed that at the time, but after a while I started to feel the regret leaving too early, and that is what fueled me to reinvent myself as a person and as a hockey player, and start at the bottom of the mountain and start clawing my way up.
That's where I am today, still clawing. For me, it was just my path. I wouldn't recommend going to Europe unless you are content that you are not going to make it to the NHL, but if you still have that drive and hunger, stay here in the minor leagues and start getting better every single day, starting today.
During your time playing, who is the player who has had the greatest impact on you and your development as a player?
During the summer before my rookie year, I skated with a bunch of local pro guys in the Boston area during their summer skates. I remember meeting Mike Grier, and knowing right away that he was a true professional. I was just a kid, and knew that I wanted to carry myself like he did, and play like he did. My college coach at Umass Lowell coached Mike Grier when they were both at Boston University, and throughout my career he always compared to me him, and said that I reminded him of Grier in a lot of ways. After meeting him, I knew that I had some big shoes to fill, and I try to carry myself with that same air of professionalism and positivity to this day. I also try to be a warrior like him on the ice.
When did you get your cat? Does he travel with you?
We adopted TomTom from an animal shelter over three years ago, and he is a long-haired tuxedo cat. He's the man! Yes, TomTom travels with me, and I drove 22 hours from Wisconsin to Providence with TomTom sitting on my lap.
Bobby, you say you'd like to become a writer and and NHL player. What sort of writing do you want to do? How strongly are you pursuing writing while you are still able to pursue your dream of playing in the NHL?
I love to write. It's what is inside of me, and I have always done it. Starting the Bobby Robins Blog, was a big step for me to get my words out there and to gauge the public reception of them. It also holds me accountable to pay my dues, punch the clock, and bang away on the keyboard. My writing seems to have struck a chord with some people, and I think the reason is because it is an honest voice. I know when I'm writing in my voice and I know when I am faking it. I can tell, and readers can tell. When I am tuned into my voice and writing what is in my heart, it tends to be personal reflective writing and inspirational writing. These are the types of books I want to write someday. I want to spread positivity into the world, and feel that I can do it through the written word.
I plan on maintaining my blog, and seeing where it takes me. It has already opened some doors for me, and has brought me great happiness and pride. I have inspired some people to quit chewing tobacco through the words that I wrote. If that is all that ever comes from writing, that I am satisfied. I will continue to write, because it is what I like to do. I also like to play hockey, so I will keep doing that as long as possible. Who knows what will come from all this hockey and writing. All I know is that I am trying to do what I love to do, and if I stay positive, something good will come from it.
What's the most memorable moment of your career so far?
Getting called up to the Providence Bruins at 30 years old, after reinventing myself as a person and as a hockey player two years prior. It made all that pain and sacrifice undoubtedly worth it. It made me believe that anything is possible.
And finally...what's on tap?
A pint of Guinness, in honor of my friends in Northern Ireland.