By Howard Balaban
The Lockport Wolves may be long gone, but they made a lasting impact on their coach and owner, Mike Robitaille.
"It was fun for me and helped me make a difference," the former NHLer said Saturday night before taking the podium. "It was good to get out and help fine tune the kids' talent so they could play college hockey. I had them at the age when they could get real good real quick."
The Wolves were a junior team, and the opportunity to run them came along at just the right time for Robitaille.
"My career had just ended," he said. The last franchise he played for was the Vancouver Canucks, and he recalled wondering what to do with so much time on his hands. "We decided to go where our friends were, and Buffalo was always very good to me and near lots of our friends."
|Niagara Watercooler's Craig Bacon with Mike Robitaille|
As an Ontario native, Buffalo also provided an opportunity to be close to home. Ultimately settling in the Amherst area - "about as close to Lockport without being in Lockport," Robitaille said - he took the reins of the Lockport Junior B team and ran them through the early 1980s at the Kenan Center.
Several years after the team left the area, Robitaille said Lockport played another huge role in his life as Ted Darling, the longtime voice of the Buffalo Sabres, gave him a call. "We met for a coffee, and it was the most important cup of coffee I ever had. He gave me a leg up," Robitaille recalled. He added that the timing of Darling's call could not have been better because at that time he was a "physical and emotional wreck."
That meeting led to an interview which led to a rewarding career as a TV and radio analyst for the Buffalo Sabres that spanned almost a decade and a half.
"My pride and my dignity came back to me," Robitaille explained to the crowd on Saturday night. "Ted had the presence of mind to reach out and help someone," he said. Robitaille said the Lockport Hall of Famers should continue Darling's tradition of paying it forward, because sometimes even the smallest gestures can make a big difference.
"We're all in a position to make a difference," he explained, noting that advice from a Hall of Famer can carry some weight. "It can be amazing when you hear a voice tell you the right thing."