Getting a Lift
King Luc Robitaille's play has been revived by a new workout regimen
Picture a campground in the Rocky Mountains on a sunny morning last July. From a mobile home emerges an immaculately coiffed man lugging an unwieldy piece of equipment. Other campers, watching curiously, figure it's an outsized jack for the trailer, but it's not. Working with a wrench, the man assembles a squat rack, which he loads with steel weights. Eventually another camper ambles over. "Uh, mister?" he says. "What the hell are you doin'?"
The guy with the hair was none other than Kings left wing Luc Robitaille, who was in the middle of a monthlong camping sojourn with his family, and what he was doing was resurrecting his once-prolific career. Robitaille had averaged 49 goals in his first eight seasons in the NHL, but over the last three he'd averaged 21. This year Robitaille is back in his old form—through Sunday he was tied for second in the league in goals, with 24—and was a glaring omission from the rosters selected for Sunday's All-Star Game in Tampa.
"I have more strength and stamina than I've ever had," says the 6'1", 205-pound Robitaille. "Players have gotten bigger and bigger, and I had to make myself stronger." After last season, during which he underwent abdominal surgery and had just 16 goals in 57 games, Robitaille began a workout regimen designed to strengthen his lower torso and legs. He stuck diligently to his routine even as he, wife Stacia, and their two kids wended their way from Big Sur to Yellowstone National Park. By training camp he had put on 15 pounds of muscle.
Robitaille, 32, has been thriving with the added bulk. Says Kings defenseman Rob Blake, "There's no getting him off the puck." He was softer in his first tenure with the Kings (1986-87 through 1993-94), during which the affable Robitaille became one of Los Angeles's most beloved athletes. But after falling out of favor with then Kings captain Wayne Gretzky, he was dealt to the Penguins. One season later he was traded to the Rangers, for whom he had two disappointing years. When the Kings reacquired him for faded power forward Kevin Stevens last season, skeptics said the move was motivated more by Robitaille's popularity than by his scoring ability—a perception that held firm when he struggled last year.
Now Robitaille is L.A.'s best offensive player, and he put a stamp on his resurgence earlier this month when he scored his 500th career goal. The achievement prompted his teammates to buy him a mammoth home-entertainment system. "My family loves it," says Robitaille. "They deserve a reward after putting up with me this summer. You don't see a guy doing squats and dead lifts in a campground every day, you know. My wife was a little embarrassed. She hid in the trailer."
Make It a Double, on Ice
The thugs in the NHL who slam opponents when they think a referee isn't looking are getting away with that less frequently this season. As the league experiments with a two-referee system, a new justice has prevailed. "It has done a lot to clean up the game," says Sabres general manager Darcy Regier. That's because, as Predators general manager David Poile says, "two policemen in a community are better than one."
Through Sunday two refs had been used in 178 of 570 games, and with good results. Because would-be aggressors were increasingly wary of being caught by a second set of eyes, penalty minutes were lower in two-referee games than in single-ref matches (34.2 to 34.6). That has helped improve the flow of play while shortening games (2:34 to 2:36). The system bodes well for the long term, too, because it could prolong the careers of the league's most experienced officials by lessening the physical demands on them. "The first tiling that goes on a ref is his wheels," says Canucks general manager Brian Burke. "This will allow guys to stay on an extra five or 10 years."
Before the end of next month, the NHL is likely to announce that it will use two refs during some of its playoff games. That would be a wise move, provided the league makes two adjustments. First, it should pair off the referees and keep them together throughout the postseason, so they can become familiar with one another and develop a complementary style. Second, the NHL should not continue its half-baked policy of employing two refs in some games but not in others. "One night you're getting away with something, and the next night you're not," says Maple Leafs forward Kris King.