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Mike Robitaille
Mike Robitaille
Defenseman
(ROH bih tigh)
Number: 21
Height: 5' 11"
Weight: 195
Shoots: Right
Born: Feb 12, 1948
Birthplace: Midland, ON, Canada
Hometown: Midland, Ontario
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Acquired: Traded to Detroit by the New York Rangers with Arnie Brown and Tom Miller for Bruce MacGregor and Larry Brown on February 2, 1971.
Mike Robitaille knew, from early on in his is life, that he wanted a career in hockey. He left school after completing the 8th grade to devote all of his time and energy to the sport.

In the early going, good fortune followed him as a hiked up the ranks to the Kitchener Rangers of the OHA where he played from 1964 to 1968. He was voted a First-Team All-Star during his final campaign with the club. As a member of the New York Rangers' system, he was then sent for a year of seasoning with the Omaha Knights of the CHL. During his second year with the club, he was selected as a First-Team All-Star. His reward was to catch a slight taste at the top, playing four games with the parent Rangers, before heading back to the minors.

By 1970-71, the last of Robitaille's good fortune was spent. During the Rangers' training camp, he broke his ankle, an injury that effectively eclipsed his early-season momentum. In the interim, Brad Park arrived on the Ranger scene, making Robitaille expendable. He was traded to the Detroit Red Wings before season's end. There he played only 23 games and was then passed along to the Buffalo Sabres.

In Buffalo, Robitaille saw some hope for his career. He was paired with the defenseman he respected the most in the NHL, Tim Horton. But the rays of light dimmed when Horton died in a car crash in 1974. Devastated by the loss, Robitaille never recovered as a Sabres.

In late 1974, he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks where he appeared to finally find a home. And he did, for just over a season and a half. But then he began to experience back pain. He reported his difficulty to the club's management. They in turn emphasized how important it was that he continue to play. To help him through the pain, he was given an ample supply of valium to which he soon became addicted. To eventually break the addiction, Robitaille sought the help of a psychiatrist. As such, he was labeled a "head case." As he continued to suffer, the club's management assumed he was faking his symptoms.

But finally, one night, while playing a home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he jumped out of the penalty box and heard the crowd yelling. He thought they wanted him to get moving on a breakaway. But the fan reaction was to portend a massive blind-sided hit laid on by the Pens' Dennis Owchar. Robitaille fell heavily to the ice and was eventually diagnosed with a bruised spine at the base of his skull. Still he pressed on until he was no longer able to function.

When he didn't show up for training camp at the start of the next season, the Canucks launched a breech-of-contract suit against the rearguard. Robitaille countered with a suit of his own, maintaining that the Canucks were negligent in not ensuring his safety.

Meanwhile, Robitaille's playing career was finished. He left hockey unable to hold a regular job. He stuck to his guns through the litigation process, however, and in 1981, was rewarded with a $355,000 settlement from the Canucks. The money came just in time as the penniless former defenseman was struggling to catch up on mortgage payments.

In the ensuing years, Robitaille secured enough motor skills to resume a more normal life. He has since worked in community relations and as a broadcaster for Sabres' games.

Courtesy of the Hockey Hall of Fame

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