‘Deca Dance Club’ – Bob Probert vs Stu Grimson

‘Deca Dance Club’ – Bob Probert vs Stu Grimson

Here at the ‘Deca Dance Club’ we pride ourselves on treating all guests the same, no matter who they are because having fought the same opponent ten times deserves all the respect in the world. However, just like parents or grandparents, we all have our favourites. That’s why these two legends will get the table next to the stage because they deserve the best seat in the house. In other sports, the G.O.A.T. argument is debatable and often contentious, but amongst enforcers there is consensus that Bob Probert was, is and will remain the greatest enforcer of all-time. Probert had many different dance partners throughout his years in the NHL – Domi, Brashear and Clark to name a few – but his partner in the ‘Deca Dance Club’ is Stu “The Grim Reaper” Grimson. These two battled over 10-times throughout their careers and, while there is no special treatment in this prestigious club, let’s be honest, who would have been brave enough to tell Probert and Stu that they couldn’t get the best seat in the house… Based on their “dance” skills, definitely not me.

Bob Probert vs Stu Grimson 

1st dance – December 31, 1990 – 2nd period – 13:11

The majority of us let our car heat up before we drive it, stretch before working out and even wait 30 minutes after eating before hopping in the pool. Stu Grimson didn’t have that luxury on New Year’s Eve in 1990 because he had to fight a legend in his first shift of the game, for the very first time. Bob Probert clearly instigated the tilt but somehow Grimson skated away from this fight with a loss and the extra 2-minute instigator penalty. These big boys let off some haymakers in this tilt, including Probert delivering a couple body shots to start off the fight. Grimson was able to trade a few and hold his ground until Probert’s jersey came off. Early in his fighting career, Probert learned not to tie down his jersey because when it “somehow” came off it meant his opponent had less to grab and hold on to. That’s why Grimson’s recount of the fight was that, when Probert’s jersey came off, he just held on for dear life. The two traded a few big blows and it should be noted that at about the 30 second mark Grimson went for an overhand right, which Probert ducked, causing Grimson to punch the glass. You can immediately tell this injured the hand of this British Columbia native. Grimson recalls that this fight was an educational lesson and suggested Probert must have been ambidextrous because he was able to equally deliver punishment with either hand.  After his career Grimson completed a law-degree that exemplified his value for education and he certainly got educated that night. Despite the Hawks’ 4-0 win in Motor City, he knew he had lost and studied every night afterwards to make sure the new year yielded different results.

2nd dance – October 03, 1991 – 2nd period – 9:26

Both teams donned their original sweaters in the 1991-92 season opener at the Chicago Arena. These original-6 rivals looked to pick up where they had left off, on-the-ice and in the penalty box. Although Stu Grimson is an intelligent and well-spoken man, it was clear there was a steep learning curve involved with figuring out Bob Probert. In their second dance, Grimson once again skated away with a loss and an instigator penalty. To Grimson’s credit, he had no choice but to jump in after the spear Probert gave his teammate, Jocelyn Lemieux. This battle was short and sweet. Despite Grimson getting the jump on him at the start, Probert landed two quick rights, visibly stunning Grimson before wrestling him to the ground. Fortunately for “The Grim Reaper”, the refs – in their schnazzy sweaters – were able to pull Probert off him before any more damage was inflicted. The most surprising thing to come from this fight was that only half of Probert’s jersey was off during the time, which is a clear indicator Probert handled Grimson quickly and efficiently. This game was a minor blip on the city of Chicago’s radar because it coincided with Michael Jordan skipping a White House visit to meet President George H. W. Bush. Grimson hoped it wouldn’t just be a blip, but instead a distance memory.

3rd dance – October 03, 1991 – 3rd period – 1:39

Bob Probert’s intensity remains unmatched to this day, but during the second fight that same night in October his intensity transformed into blind-rage. Probert wanted to dance with Grimson but Grimson wasn’t reciprocating – understandably, considering the result of their dance in the second period. The two exchanged cross-checks before Probert jumped Grimson. ‘The Grim Reaper’ couldn’t even get his gloves off before he was down on the ice. But that didn’t stop Probert from getting a few punches in on the former Regina Pats’ star. While it may have satisfied Bob’s desire, it was detrimental to his team. Probert received a 5-minute major and a game misconduct for attacking Grimson. The Hawks would score during the ensuing powerplay and walk away with a 3-3 tie on opening night that frankly, they did not deserve. The Wings outplayed the Hawks the entire night and Probert’s need to fight Grimson cost his team 2 points. While, there is no way of knowing if Grimson tried to bait Probert into that fight, if that was his strategy then maybe his ‘Probert Plan’ was progressing faster than previously thought.

4th dance- November 19th, 1991 – 3rd period – 12:43

While a cross-check to the face probably wasn’t the best way to initiate a dance with Probey, Grimson opted for that path and paid the price on November 19th. Chris Chelios tried to intervene to prevent the scrap from happening but both Grimson and Probert had their dancing shoes on and weren’t about to take them off. If Grimson could have landed his first right it may have changed the course of events – a butterfly effect you could say. But he didn’t. This meant Probert was able to clutch and toss bombs. The odds that Probert wouldn’t have engaged Grimson were minimal considering he’s still the Wings’ all-time penalty minutes leader. So was the cross-check necessary to anger the enforcer from Windsor? Probably not, but if you wanted to dance, Probert was always willing to be your partner. Grimson stood his own but Probert’s complete disregard for his own well-being meant he was free to just stand-and-trade with Grimson. The ‘stand-and-trade’ technique may have worked with other fighters, but Probert was a different breed. Enforcers, announcers and fans have all noted that Probert used to get stronger throughout the fight. Whether it was 15, 30 or 45 seconds, his will never diminished – it only grew stronger. Once again, Grimson received an instigator penalty and a game misconduct, all while skating off knowing he had lost to his rival….again.

5th dance – April 12, 1992 – 2nd period – 8:10

Nothing screams 90s hockey more than two guys willing to scrap while the puck sits at both of their skates. 90s mentality = Fight > Puck. Even more so when the opportunity for a 5th dance against a rival presents itself. Although this tilt won’t crack the highlight reel of these two giants, that Sunday night in the Chicago Stadium, Grimson finally skated away with a draw against Probert. The two got into it at the right hash marks and gave each other a makeover with a couple face washes before dropping their gloves and trading a couple rights. To the untrained eye, this may seem like their other battles – Probert ends up jerseyless with Grimson on his back, but Stu’s dedication to learn and improve finally began paying dividends. In their previous bouts, Grimson had the tendency to quickly throw a flurry of punches, but in this battle, he was patient and let the fight come to him. “The Grim Reaper” was arguably one of the most intelligent enforcers the NHL’s ever seen and, having fought earlier in the game against Bob McGill, he seized the opportunity to keep the momentum going against the Wings’ other Bob. It took 5 fights for Grimson to get his first draw and he was determined that it wouldn’t take another 5 to get a win.

6th dance – April 07, 1996 – 1st period – 5:38

The rivalry was real between these two enforcers, which meant they were willing to throw down in the grocery store, the parking lot and even against their former teams. It does feel a little weird seeing Probert in a Hawks jersey and Grimson in a Wings jersey but enforcers go where they’re needed and do what is asked of them. The Hawks pounced on the opportunity to bring a fierce competitor into their dressing room and even though they knew Probert would be spending a year in rehab, they still committed $1.5 million a year to the Wings’ legendary enforcer. Grimson was acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Mighty Ducks the year prior and looked to solidify himself on a talent-filled Wings team. These two teams clearly disliked each other, so maybe it was the injection of Probert and Grimson to their lineups that led to this game ending with an absurd 46 penalties that equated to 158 total penalty minutes. The two heavyweights played coy for a brief second before trading jabs. Probert went for a huge right uppercut at the start of the bout and, fortunately for Grimson, he missed because nobody was left standing when Probert landed a clean uppercut. The two would trade more blows and Grimson took a page out of Probert’s book when he landed an uppercut of his own. By incorporating the unsuspected to their arsenal, these two fighters had clearly evolved since their first dance when they both threw bombs with either hand. The judges may call this a draw but Grimson must have felt he was on the precipice of knocking his rival out, no matter what jersey they had on.

7th dance – October 21, 1999 – 1st period – 10:10

‘Fight Club’ may have been the number one movie in the box office this year but, comparing punches, it couldn’t hold a candle to this heavyweight bout. Grimson was back in Disneyland and, while both players had played less than 6 games all season, they picked up where they left off 2-and-a-half years before. The two traded shots after Grimson took exception to Probert steamrolling Kris Nielson near the penalty box. While these two heavyweights were clearly past their prime, it didn’t mean the legends weren’t willing to trade blows. The fight started off slow with Probert’s stick getting stuck in Grimson’s jersey. Making it difficult for him to capitalize, Probert missed a big right-hand and an uppercut. Grimson was able to use his height advantage to keep Probert at bay and land some big right hands. As the fight continued, both giants teed-off some big shots, with the majority landing on each other’s helmets. The two wanted to keep the dance going but the linesman jumped in the second there was a break in the action. The fans at United Center not only got to watch a thrilling 5-5 game but also saw two legends give everything they had to jumpstart their team and get the fans out of their seats. Mission accomplished.

8th dance – February 18, 2001 – 3rd period – 10:42

The desperate lunge of the linesman to stop this fight before it started was priceless. It was almost like he had seen this duo dance before. While neither heavyweight inflicted any significant damage, it was still a spirited affair that got the fans on their feet. It didn’t matter what jersey these dancers wore, they always gave fans a show. Grimson tried to land a huge right as Probert came full-tilt towards him, but just missed. The two briefly grappled and Grimson was able to get Probert’s helmet off and feed a couple rabbit punches to the side of his head. When Probert got jerseyed near the end, Grimson wasn’t able to connect on any real punches, but neither was Probert.  It looked like the former member of the ‘Bruise Brothers’ landed a couple right hands before forcing Grimson to the ice, ending the fight before it really got started. Grimson was handed yet another instigator penalty and a 10-minute misconduct, which piled onto an already rough night for the Kings. They were shutout, spent the majority of the night in the penalty box and lost the game. While, most fans would call this fight a draw, this series of events was becoming all too familiar for Grimson.

9th dance – March 10, 2001 – 2nd period – 4:08

Whether it’s watching Michael Jordan on the Wizards, Muhammad Ali against Trevor Berbick or Wayne Rooney in the MLS, true sports fans know that feeling of seeing a legend on the decline.  Frankly, it sucks. The gradual deterioration of greatness is inevitable and painful to watch. The fight at the Staples Center on March 10th felt the same as watching the aforementioned legends. Bob Probert didn’t land a single punch and was hit with so many rights from Grimson that the refs had to jump in early. In their past dance performances, Grimson was never able to be the clear, stand-out winner but that streak was broken. Maybe it was the injection of vitamin D from living in Los Angeles, but Grimson absolutely dominated this fight. The moment the “Grim Reaper” got a hold of Probert’s right shoulder pad, he forced Probert to keep his head down and, raining punches down with his 3-inch height advantage, Grimson had no objections. The refs circled and watched Probert, who was barely able to defend himself so, once his jersey went over his head, they had no option but to jump in to prevent any serious injury. Although he may have lost the fight, Probert’s saving grace was that he was able to net a goal late in the third period that tied the game up. Even though the game ended in a 2-2 draw, there is no doubt Grimson was smiling ear-to-ear because – although he only spent one season in Los Angeles – it’ll always be the city that he dominated his rival dance partner in.

The Deca Dance – November 21, 2001 – 2nd period – 3:04

Even though last call is always bitter sweet because you know the night is ending, you get the chance for one last dance. It seemed fitting that the last dance between these two legends was in Music City, U.S.A. This would not only be the “Grim Reaper’s” last dance with Probert but also his last season in the NHL. Maybe he knew that, maybe he didn’t, but he still went out with a bang. The two tangled up near the right hash marks and tousled into the corner. Unfortunately, some poor camera work meant we missed the first couple seconds of the fight. Once the cameraman found the action, we see Grimson landed a couple quick rights as Probert pressed him against the boards. Just like in their last dance, Grimson’s reach advantage was on full display, which kept Probert immobilized as he held onto his right shoulder pad. When Probert was briefly able to free himself, he only landed a couple of punches onto Grimson’s shoulder pads before taking a quick jab. In the end, Grimson threw Probert to the ground. Although we might think the last dance is supposed to be the best dance, the life of an enforcer is different. Both men learned from every dance they were in, studied their opponents and adjusted accordingly. These two warriors weren’t simpletons – they were smart, strategic and improved their craft every single day for many years. Grimson played 16 seasons in the NHL, playing more than 70 games in nearly half of them. They both gave fans a show every single time they squared off against each other – it didn’t matter if it was in the 1st period or the 3rd, blowout or one-goal game, tired or not, they always performed. The ‘Deca Dance’ ended a rivalry that spanned over a decade. While the paths of each player were drastically different, there is no doubt that, even after they hung up the skates, fans in the buildings within which they danced had never been louder than when they saw Bob Probert and Stu Grimson drop their gloves.

The trials and tribulations of Bob Probert have been well-documented both during his playing career and after. The Windsor native was not without his faults. It’s easy for fans sit in their armchairs and criticize players for their decisions and indiscretions – Probert would be the first to admit his mistakes. In a heart-breaking letter, ‘Dear Disease’ he outlined all of the events, memories and moments that the disease of drugs & alcohol stole from him. On July 5, 2010, Bob Probert tragically passed away from a heart attack while boating with his family on Lake St. Clair. Not only did the hockey world lose their G.O.A.T. enforcer, they lost a talented player, an incredible teammate, and – from all accounts – a man with a larger-than-life presence. Probert used to buy tickets for underprivileged kids in Detroit to come out to the games. He never said a word about it to anyone. As Steve Yzerman said, “he was a rugged hockey player and an unselfish teammate who was willing to do anything for his team, and most notably, he had a kind heart and a gentle soul.” Although Probert is renowned as an enforcer within the hockey community, his impact clearly extended far beyond dropping the gloves.