December 19, 2013

New dad Bobby Robins savors role with Providence

By Mike Miccoli

UMass-Lowell graduate Bobby Robins, shown above at Boston Bruins training camp, has become a fan favorite and team leader in Providence. Photos/Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal; Providence Bruins (below)

Bobby Robins is tired. He won’t come out and say it explicitly, but the sound of his voice tells you that this is someone who hasn’t gotten much sleep lately.

It’s not because of hockey either, even though the Providence Bruins are coming off of their first weekend of the season with three games in three days. The Bruins went undefeated, outscoring their opponents 19-7, including a Sunday matinee against the Hartford Wolf Pack where the two teams combined for a whopping 168 penalty minutes.

Robins wasn’t part of any of the five fights between the two teams, nor did he account for any of Providence’s 73 penalty minutes. This should come as a bit of a surprise, especially since the P-Bruins’ enforcer dropped the gloves with his opponents 39 times during the 2012-13 season. But on this Sunday, Robins’ name was nowhere to be found on the scoresheet.

Robins, in fact, wasn’t even in the game at all. Robins was with his wife, about to become a father. “It’s just kind of crazy how that works,” Robins said. “In a game like that, where I’m sure I’d be right in the middle of things and going to war with my teammates, I’m bringing my daughter into the world.”

It’s a challenge that Robins is ready for, not unlike those he typically accepts when he’s on the ice.

“Life changes now where it’s not just about me anymore,” Robins said days after the birth of his daughter. “I just have this overwhelming feeling to do my best to raise my daughter and impart all of the wisdom and knowledge I’ve acquired over 32 years to prepare her for life in this world. I feel this great sense of motivation to accomplish my goals every time I look at her, and I owe it to her to give it everything I have to make the most out of my life so that I can make her life even better.”

Robins knows a thing or two about motivation and playing against the odds. A graduate of UMass-Lowell, Robins bounced around playing professional hockey in Europe, in the ECHL and with five different AHL clubs. He’s no goal scorer, or playmaker. He’s not a stand-up defenseman or faceoff specialist. He’s an enforcer, a player who has a specific skill-set. Unfortunately, these players aren’t usually the first to be noticed by a club.

He was finally able to stick with the Providence Bruins after being called up in December 2011 and has been with the team since his roller-coaster ride of the beginning of his career.

“I hit a really dark spot in my life and I was at rock bottom,” Robins said, referencing an addiction to chewing tobacco that he was able to kick. “I really made an effort to chase my goals and play in the NHL. In four years, I said to myself, ‘I’m going to make myself the best version of me I can, and I’m going to be the best person I can be, the best hockey player I can be and do all of the right things to get me to that spot.’ “

Four years later, here he is, just four months removed from signing his first NHL contract, a two-year, two-way deal with the Boston Bruins.

“I knew I was going to be a long shot and that it was going to be a really difficult road,” Robins said. “I just kept clawing away. It seemed like when I got that call-up to Providence a couple of years ago, it just showed me that, ‘Wow, somebody’s paying attention’ and all of this effort that I had been putting into this dream is starting to come to fruition.”

The Providence Bruins and Robins seemed like a match right away — two parties that needed the other to succeed.

“We were a young group and (Robins) made us all a little taller, a little bigger,” said Providence Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy on the arrival of Robins in 2011. “Before you know it, it rubbed off and we became a little harder to play against. He’s a real good leader in that aspect.”

Last season with Providence, Robins led the AHL with 316 penalty minutes, cementing his role as an energy player who knows what his on-ice responsibility is. He’s a fighter, an enforcer who can take a beating like no other while shelling out some jabs and hooks of his own. It’s his job to send a message, change the pace of the game and protect his teammates.

Robins is aware of his job description. He calls it “his brand of hockey.” It’s what makes him an asset to the team.

“I’m just a guy who’s out there playing and working as hard as I can,” Robins said. “I always felt the need to stick up for somebody who’s getting picked on and stick up for my teammates. I enter the hockey game with a war-like mentality where for the next two or three hours, I’m going to war and giving it everything I have physically and mentally, really exhausting myself and laying it all the line, playing with passion and fury.”

So why is it that he’s nothing like his tough-guy, on-ice persona once the skates come off?

Because Bobby Robins is different.

“Bobby’s a very positive guy,” said Cassidy, who named Robins one of Providence’s assistant captains this season. “He walks in the locker room and is always in a good mood, head up, chatting with his teammates. You can’t have enough of those guys in the locker room. He’s a big personality without being loud, and that’s what you like about him.”

“When the game’s done, whether I got into fight, made some checks or was just an aggressive player, I’m able to step back from that,” Robins said. “Off the ice, I’m a pretty mellow guy, and I’m able to realize that’s my job and that’s my job description. Especially now, with raising a family, and I have a wife and child, I’m able to step back from that and become a peaceful man off of the ice.”

Robins’ demeanor is most seen on his personal blog that he frequently posts in. The entries range from advice on nutrition to personal accounts of his life in hockey so far, all of which contains Robins’ prose — eloquent and tastefully written and incredibly transparent for a professional athlete. His posts give fans another form of access that is usually restricted.

“I don’t know why I like to write,” Robins said. “I don’t know why my writing seems to strike a chord with people, but for some reason, I have been given this gift. To be able to share it with fans and readers, I look at it as me being able to fulfill my duty, because I have that gift.”

So maybe it’s ironic for someone like Robins to write about Zen and the art of finding one’s self. Or maybe it’s the other way around. Regardless, Robins walks a fine line between his job description on the ice and the person he is deep down. For him, it’s about the message he sends as a person.

“I’m trying to make this world a better place while I’m here, as corny as that sounds, doing anything I can to spread some positivity,” Robins said. “If I’ve been able to help anybody, think more positively or feel better, then that’s really all I can ask for, and that’s why I do it.”

All that’s left for Robins’ feel-good story is a call-up to Boston. After missing the first two weeks of the AHL season due to a knee injury, the momentum is on his side to pick up where he left off last season and continue to be a role player in Providence.

But really, Robins has already accomplished everything he wanted. He’s back playing professional hockey in the AHL, is one of the most popular players Providence has seen in some time, and is new father. His team is coming off a gritty win, where his presence was felt even though he wasn’t on the ice. He’s doing exactly what he should be, inspiring the younger P-Bruins and being someone his teammates look up to.

“It’d be a great story if he’d be able to get up to Boston and contribute in some way, shape, or form,” Cassidy said. “I know I’m rooting for him as much as anybody.”

Twitter: @MikeMiccoli