For me, the biggest disappointment of the Winter Classic was Larry Robinson pulling out of the Alumni game. Though I am too young to have enjoyed the privilege of watching him play for the Canadiens, he is easily one of my favourite players of all time. Throughout the 1970's, he was a mainstay on the Canadiens blueline, and a fearsome presence at that.
In the 70's, hockey was a little different. You had the "Big Bad Bruins," the "Broad Street Bullies," and much of the league was heavily populated by players with a penchant for fisticuffs. There were a lot of pure fighters - goons if you will - employed seemingly for the sole purpose of punching other players in the face. Then you had guys like Larry Robinson.
The goon label is certainly not an apt description of what Larry Robinson was, because he is one of the greatest defensemen of all time. But when he needed to, he would absolutely throw down. And if you were wearing a different colour jersey than the Big Bird, he was the absolute last person you'd want to pair up with in a scuffle.
I spent a little time perusing youtube for videos of Larry Robinson, and pulled a few gems for your viewing pleasure.
"Robinson is really giving it to Teddy"
Ted Irvine learned not to mess with Big Bird the hard way. Post-whistle, Irvine tangles up with Robinson, surely some words were exchanged, and they proceed to fight. Fight might be a bit of a generous description, as what occurred was essentially Irvine having his lunch fed to him by Larry.
Dave Schultz picks the wrong dance partner
A bench clearing brawl breaks out at the end of a period between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens. Everyone down to goaltender Bunny Larocque grabs a dance partner.
Robinson, a little late to the party, slides in and pairs up with Dave Schultz for the main event. The fight doesn't last very long, but is extremely one sided. I'm not sure who Robinson is pointing at after the fight, but I'm sure that person was a little terrified, and thankful that he didn't have to tangle with Larry.
Mike Milbury immediately regrets his decision
Mike Milbury and Larry Robinson are jousting a little bit after the whistle. Milbury loses the mitts first and starts swinging a way at a seemingly unprepared Robinson. The two are lost behind the bench for a little bit, and when they reappear, it is pretty clear that Milbury deeply regrets his decision.
Dale Hunter's life is saved by the officials
Dale Hunter doesn't seem like he wanted any part of Robinson to begin with. Eventually he has no choice, and two officials have to step in to make sure he doesn't get absolutely destroyed.
Gary Dornhoefer gets obliterated
Larry didn't always need to punch someone in the face to prove his point, as exemplified by one of the more famous body checks in NHL history. Gary Dornoefer thought he had enough space to get past Robinson on the outside after dumping the puck, but he was sorely mistaken.
Robinson hit him so hard, the boards actually broke and had to be repaired.
And don't forget, he was damn good at that hockey thing
When Larry wasn't burying dudes into the boards, or feeding them their lunch, he was racking up points like the legend that he is. Here he is taking the puck from Serge Savard, and going end-to-end for an absolutely gorgeous goal in the '78 finals. What. A. Beauty.
There will never be another man who could fight, hit, skate, and score like this. There will never be another man who personified toughness as much as he did skill. There will never be another Larry Robinson.
Long live the Big Bird.