BOSTON -- Early last season, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was asked whether fans in Boston would ever see Bobby Robins in a Bruins sweater. The GM admitted that Robins, a veteran forward for the Providence Bruins, could have a future in Boston.
Chiarelli's announcement Monday that the organization would not re-sign veteran pugilist Shawn Thornton could mean Robins’ opportunity has arrived.
Even if Chiarelli is correct in his recent assertion that the game is trending away from fighting, teams still need an enforcer.
Robins, 32, has spent his entire pro career in the minors. A product of UMass-Lowell, where he played four seasons, he has spent the last nine seasons in the minors and played the last three seasons with the P-Bruins. He has recorded 687 penalty minutes in 175 games with Providence.
He has protected the young talent in Providence and has served as a great big brother.
“He bows down to nobody, plays his game and looks after his teammates,” said P-Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
But the news about Thornton won't change Robins' offseason preparation for training camp in September.
"I’ve never really been a guy who looks at the number of roster spots open, or who’s playing where on what line, because those are all outside factors beyond my control,” Robins said. “I try to control what I can control, and all that is is for me to come into training camp in great shape and show Boston I can be a smart and effective hockey player.
“All the other things with fighting, I feel like that takes care of itself. They know I’m willing to do whatever it takes to help my team win. I hope to get the opportunity to play in the NHL and that’s really the only mentality I have right now for this summer and going into training camp," he said.
Robins, who was signed by the Ottawa Senators in July 2006 after he completed his four-year collegiate career, has played in the ECHL and AHL, including stints in Ireland and Austria.
If he’s able to finally earn a roster spot with the Bruins at some point next season, it would be the result of a lot of hard work and plenty of bus rides.
“It would be a dream come true,” Robins said. “I didn’t start playing pro hockey to want to play at the second-best level in the world. I want to play in the NHL and that’s been my dream ever since I was 5 years old, just like all of us who play hockey. It would mean everything just to see all the hard work, and passion, and dedication all come together. To have that opportunity would be amazing, but at the same time I know the recipe for success of what it takes to get there and I’ve been on a pretty good path the last four years here, trying to achieve my goal. I’m just going to stick to my program and keep doing the things I do and try to get better every single year to try to reach that goal.”
There’s much more to Robins’ game than just fighting. In order to play in the NHL, he’ll need to improve in certain areas, including his lateral movement, but his style of game is perfect for Boston.
“His straight line [skating] and his ability to hunt down people on the forecheck and finish his check is excellent. That won’t be an issue,” Cassidy said. “That’s one of his better attributes, is his ability to finish checks hard and clean.
“The fisticuff part, he’s fought all the heavyweights in our league and has done very well against all of them,” said Cassidy. “That’s clearly part of what he brings. His puck skills have gotten better. He can see the ice and make plays. Obviously [in the NHL] it’s a little different animal, so that will be a test for him."
Current Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller can also be an enforcer, and he enjoys that physical part of the game, as does fellow blueliner Adam McQuaid. If Robins earns the opportunity with the Bruins next season, he doesn’t necessarily need to be in the lineup every night. He would be better served playing when necessary against certain opponents, while other games watching and learning as a healthy scratch.
Given his age and experience in the minors, Robins won’t be a liability on the ice. He’s a smart player and won’t put his team in a bad situation, something Thornton mastered during his career in Boston.
“In the American League, there are more theatrics with certain players and he doesn’t fall under that category," said Cassidy. "But sometimes he wants to get the crowd going, too. He’ll just have to find that line of what works and what doesn’t for him.”
When Thornton signed with Boston, he was 30 and played a then-career-high 58 games that season for the Bruins. Thornton was allowed to develop his overall game in Boston. His confidence grew and he earned a regular shift.
Robins could have the same kind of impact. He will turn 33 on Oct. 17 and Cassidy doesn’t think Robins’ age will be a factor at the NHL level.
“I don’t see that being an issue,” Cassidy said. “Clearly, he’s getting a late start into it, but I think he’ll earn the respect of his teammates immediately. Some will probably remember that exhibition game when he got into it with Adam [McQuaid], and that’s just part of his job, it’s what he does. I think they’ll respect that he’s put his time in.”
Thornton was a true leader. He has strong hockey sense and always did the right thing with the puck. Robins will need to hone some of those skills. But when it comes to toughness and physical play, he can handle the job.
“To play and be physical, get the puck out and get it in, that part will be OK,” Cassidy said. “For him, it’s just defensive-zone coverage, awareness, showing composure to do your job and not run around, because Bobby will want to block a shot, he’ll want to cover up a mistake, and up there you’ve got to be smarter about that because the better players will expose you if you start duplicating.”
Robins is staying in Providence for the offseason and is training with P-Bruins strength and conditioning coach Mike Macchioni at Northeast Sports Training in Warwick, R.I. Robins’ goal is to improve his foot speed, explosiveness and lateral movement.
“With the trend of the NHL now you really have to be able to skate to play in the NHL, and especially for a guy like me, being a physical guy and obviously a known pugilist and checker, one of the most important things for me is to really work on my foot speed and be able to not only keep the pace but be fast out there. That’s the physical aspect of the game that I’m working on and also working on the mental aspect of my game of just having confidence in myself, knowing I can make the right play and the right read and just going out there and reacting. I feel like when I put those two elements together, with a summer of hard work, I’m going to see improvements in my game.”