Bobby Robins has had a crazy ride through hockey. From dropping the gloves with some of the best in the league to battling drug addiction and depression, to finding himself once again through faith, Robins has been to both the top of the mountain and the bottom of the pit playing hockey.
Robins grew up in Wisconsin and like many other kids, he played almost every sport but found that he was good at both baseball and hockey, ultimately choosing hockey in the end.
Robins played junior hockey for the Great Falls Americans of the AWHL and the Tri-City Storm of the USHL before attending UMass-Lowell and playing in the College Hockey East conference. It was in juniors and at UMass-Lowell where he figured out that adopting the enforcer style of hockey would be best-suited for him.
"I was a really tough kid, and around that time in juniors if you played tough someone would ask you to fight," Robins said. "Fighting the biggest guy would get you noticed. I fought with a lot of fear, having never done it before and growing up in turmoil, so I [adopted this play style]. I think fear fueled a lot of my play during that time, and it showed."
Robins fought plenty of players during his career, but a few legendary enforcers stood out to him as the toughest he would face when he did drop the gloves.
"Joel Rechlicz was one of them, I took a few of his knuckle sandwiches," Robins said. "Another tough one was against Frazer McLaren. He yanked me as soon as I came out of the penalty box one night, and we were in a pretty aggressive fight. Those two stood out the most. Even though I probably would not have fought them early in my career, the fact that I was able to stand in against those guys is a testament to how important it was to train in fighting."
While fighting would not be the main area of his game for at least a few seasons into his career, Robins fought when he had to but still played aggressively and tough. He spent all four seasons at Lowell, captaining the team during his senior season. What stood out the most about Lowell was the ability to play for a good team in a high-up hockey division.
"Lowell was awesome, especially getting to play at the Tsongas Center [every night]," Robins said. "It was also a big-time league we played in. The CHE had Boston, Boston College, Maine, New Hampshire, some schools that won some national championships. I passed up some lesser schools that gave me more money because the competition was so good. Beating some of those teams was like winning the Stanley Cup for us."
After playing at Lowell, Robins signed as an undrafted free agent with the Ottawa Senators, spending parts of two seasons with Binghamton before joining the Elmira Jackals in the ECHL, where he would have the most productive season to date in professional hockey, scoring 35 points and reaching the playoffs, where he would score another five points in six games. Robins enjoyed the atmosphere of the playoffs in both the AHL and the ECHL.
"There's nothing like playoffs," he said. "I got to experience it in just my second year pro with Elmira. We played the Reading Royals in a five-game series, and I've never experienced a battle like that. I'm not sure if guys hold back during the regular season, but each one of us has another level we can take it to. Guys bring that when you reach the playoffs."
He bounced around from both the AHL and ECHL that season before taking his talents overseas and joining the Belfast Giants in Northern Ireland. The transition to playing hockey overseas was not hard for Robins, and he was lucky that playing for the Giants was similar to playing in North America.
"I was lucky that it was [similar] to the North American style of play in Belfast," Robins said. "It's still aggressive and less of a skilled game than the rest of Europe. When I went over there, the biggest adjustment for me was deciding not to fight. I just wanted to go play hockey. Even though it was a fighting league, I just wanted to put up points and be a better player."
With Belfast, he did put up points, the most of his career and highest since he played in the AWHL. He scored 21 goals and 25 assists for 46 points. He credits ditching the fighting and focusing on playing hockey to his success that season.
"I think playing with freedom [helped me have success]," Robins said. "I couldn't have that freedom [before] because of fear. I was living in fear back then, and in Europe, I was able to play hockey and have fun again. I was able to face that fear [head-on] when I came back to North America."
After playing in Belfast, Robins joined HK Acroni Jesenice (Slovenia) in the EBEL, winning the championship there before deciding to return to North America. He played with the Bakersfield Condors for a season before being traded to the Chicago Express the following season. Robins had two productive seasons in the ECHL before being loaned to both the Abbotsford Heat and the Providence Bruins, the latter of whom he would sign a contract with following the season. Providence would turn out to be his longest stay, and he was happy he finally found a place where he called home for the first time in his career.
"What a cool place to play hockey," Robins said. "I went there trying to prove myself. I kept pushing forward in front of 10,000 fans every night at the Dunkin' Donuts Center. I connected with the fans and management during my time there. I was meant to be a P-Bruin. They loved the way I played there, and I made an impact on that community. I got to keep developing there as a player."
All of Robins' hard work would pay off after three seasons in Providence, making the 2014-15 Boston Bruins opening night roster, becoming the oldest player to ever make an opening night roster at the age of 32. Finally getting his chance, for Robins, the feeling was unmatched.
"It was amazing making the opening night roster," he said. "It was a lifetime pursuit. To see that climb after all that effort, all the hard work in training... it was unbelievable. To see it all come together, it was incredible."
Robins made his NHL debut in Boston against the Philadelphia Flyers, playing a hair under seven minutes and getting into a fight with Luke Schenn. Getting on the ice for the first time was the realization of a lifelong dream, but had a swift reality check when Flyers enforcer Zac Rinaldo knocked him down.
"My first shift, I think I got toasted by Zac Rinaldo," Robins said. "I knew he was a massive hitter from playing against him in the AHL. After that, I was dialed in. When it came time to fight, I would fight, and when the puck was on my stick, I knew I had to get it to the net."
Robins played in three games that season and got into two fights, one with Schenn and one with Washington Capitals forward Michael Latta. Of the two, Robins believes Schenn was the tougher opponent.
"Both guys were warriors, but Schenn was a big dude," Robins said. "He was a lefty that knew how to fight. I knew Rinaldo was their toughest guy, but I knew Schenn was tough too. I knew if I had to run into Schenn, it was going to be an exciting fight."
Following those three games, Robins would be waived for reassignment to the AHL. Battling through a head injury, Robins would only play two more games for Providence before concussion issues forced him to retire that season. It was tough to both be sent down and have to retire at the same time.
"I went down to Providence, and the [concussion] problems just never went away," he said. "To have it all end like that coming off such a big high took a toll. It was like being at the top of a mountain and then all the sudden being at the bottom of a pit."
Robins would go down a dark path following that, dealing with depression, suicidal thoughts and post-concussion syndrome and falling into addiction.
Robins opened up about his self-destructive path following hockey since that was no longer an option for him, physically and mentally destroying himself. He was out in Colorado using marijuana pretty heavily at that time, but it was also around that time that he began to discover his faith and be reborn.
He picked up a bible in the hotel room he was in and began his path to finding himself again. He told a story about being lost on a mountain where he first started that path. He tried to gain sobriety for the first time in a long time. He was in the mountains wandering around, slipping in and out of consciousness as he was lost in the woods. Robins turned to Jesus at the brink of death while he was lost there. He describes a ray of light shining onto a tree, and that Jesus told him to keep focusing on the tree that the light was on. By doing this, he eventually stumbled back to the path he had wandered off of, finding his tent and hydrating himself and getting the help he needed after getting out of the woods.
After finding himself once again, Robins decided to give back to the hockey community, becoming a coach in Minnesota for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in accordance with the North Star Christian Hockey Academy. To fully appreciate Bobby's inspiring story, you can listen to the full episode at any of the links found here.