Friday, 3 January 2014

Show of class at NHL Alumni Game a reminder of the strength of Dani Probert

Although the previous series of articles and observations have revolved around the women who play the game, Joe Kocur’s gesture of class at the NHL Alumni Game on December 31, 2013 reinforced a strong message. There are other women that are just as important to the game, the wives and the mothers who provide the emotional support and the dedication that supplies great worth.

When Kocur graced the frozen surface in the middle of Detroit’s Comerica Park, home of the Detroit Tigers baseball club, he did so to a roar of approval from both Detroit and Toronto fans in attendance. Donning the jersey of Bob Probert, with its bold, red number 24 on the reverse, Kocur ended hockey in 2013 with a heartwarming moment.

It was more than a gesture recognizing his fallen teammate; it was also a tribute to the family that he left behind. His loving widow Dani Probert and their four children, three daughters and one son, are his true legacy.

While time will tell if Probert’s children shall ever duplicate his hockey glories, there is no question that Dani is the glue that holds the family together. On the surface, it would be easy to observe that Dani endured more than any woman should ever have to. While there is no need to open old wounds by recounting Probert’s troubled past as a player, one could easily state that Dani’s encouragement and support throughout such hardships makes her a very strong woman.

Through it all, she always maintained a quiet dignity, complemented by a toughness that could not be measured. After Probert’s book Tough Guy was published as a paperback, she made appearances at book signings and spoke to fans. It was a graceful way to give back to the fans while celebrating the life of a fallen hero.

For many Red Wings and hockey fans, Steve Yzerman may have been the catalyst for the renaissance to come in Detroit, yet there is no denying that the bruisers and grinders such as Bob Probert and Joe Kocur were its heart. Lunch pail workers through and through, their resiliency and dedication defined the working class spirit upon which the city of Detroit was built.

Even those who grew up admiring the Red Wings playoff foes of the time, such as Toronto and Edmonton, could not help but respect and admire the way Probert and Kocur could set the tone of a game. In the background, unbeknownst to fans was Dani, who would follow him to Detroit and Chicago, building a family and a life together.

While Probert’s career would endure its peaks and valleys through to its end, his accomplishments may equally be Dani’s as well. Probert was always described in his career as a protector. Dani acknowledged in interviews that he was a protector of their family. Yet, her loving support throughout his various problems reciprocated such a role. He may have been a free spirit of sorts, but without Dani, it is doubtful that he would have ever played over 900 NHL games.

Despite the fact that life must go on and the December 31 Alumni Game is just a memory, part of history and lore, the chance to see Probert’s name and his trademark #24 back on the ice reminded fans of a golden era for the Red Wings. It also reminded those who knew the Probert family and saw them grow that the spirit of his toughness yet friendship proudly carries on with his wife and their four children.

For that brief time, Kocur’s gesture was more than just testament to the admiration fans and colleagues had for #24. The fact that he gave the jersey to Probert’s only son, Jack, is equally testament to the respect that Probert had for his family. He would have wanted it this way. 

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