As "Big" as they come
As soon as Robinson emerged from the tunnel holding his grandson Dylan’s hand, the crowd roared. The six-time Stanley Cup champion, two-time Norris Trophy winner and Conn Smythe Trophy winner had them chanting his name one more time.
Despite his efforts to begin his speech, the crowd wouldn’t let him. The lengthy ovation even had Robinson motioning to keep the noise down to move the ceremony forward.
“I’m extremely proud and this is an incredible honor,” admitted Robinson, as his family looked on seated alongside him, including his wife Jeannette. “The rich tradition that exists here in Montreal is unreal, just like what the Yankees mean to New York. I still say everywhere I go that Montreal is the true hockey city, the real Hockey Town, not Detroit or anywhere else.”
Few loomed larger on the Habs’ blue line than Robinson, who holds club records for most career games played, goals, assists, and points by a Canadiens defenseman. Seeing his No. 19 raised to the rafters was the only way Robinson’s brilliant Habs legacy could draw to a close. That being said, writing his speech was no easy task.
“It took me at least seven or eight drafts,” said Robinson with a smile. “You do what you can, try to name everyone and not leave anyone out, while singling out those who had the biggest impact.”
Among those to impact Robinson even to this day is Devils President and GM Lou Lamoriello, who was a natural fit to speak on his behalf on his big night.
“I thought the choice of Lou was fitting since he was so affected by the Canadiens and their success,” explained Robinson. “He often told me about his days in Providence when he would watch how the Canadiens practiced and followed every move made by GM Sam Pollock. Lou knew that if the day ever came that he could build his own hockey franchise, he would do so the right way. The way Pollock and the Canadiens did it. And that’s exactly what he’s done in New Jersey.”
Lamoriello built the Devils from the ground up with the help of both Robinson and Jacques Lemaire, who each led New Jersey to Stanley Cup titles from behind the bench.
“I am certain everyone here has different memories of #19, “Big Bird” as he was known while helping the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup,” said Lamoriello during his glowing speech in honor of his current assistant coach with the Devils. “Tonight marks another moment in Larry’s brilliant career. He was one-of-a-kind on the ice and one-of-a-kind off the ice, and I continue to cherish the opportunity to work with him every day.”
As Robinson continued his trip down memory lane at the podium, his emotions got the best of him.
“I promised myself that I wouldn’t pull a Mark Messier,” joked Robinson as he unsuccessfully tried to choke back his tears. “You, the fans have allowed a young farm boy from Marvelville reach all his goals. Without you, I wouldn’t be here tonight.”
Surrounded by microphones following his ceremony, Robinson didn’t know where to begin when asked to identify his greatest moment with the Canadiens.
“Geez, there are just so many memories that to try to narrow it down to one would be like eating a can of beans and then trying to figure out which one gave you gas,” smiled Robinson. “When you get to live as many great moments as I have, all you can you do is feel blessed to have been so lucky.”
Canadiens fans everywhere know the feeling and they won’t soon forget the night Big Bird’s legacy flew its way up to the rafters where it belongs.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com